Puerto Ricans across the U.S. are mobilizing, rallying, and gathering supplies to help and deliver critical materials to the island of Puerto Rico after the detrimental impact of Hurricane Maria.
Since the Category 5 storm slammed Puerto Rico during the last week of September, the state-sized island has been facing terrible aftereffects including mass power outages, little running water, and the failure of up to 75% of the island’s fiber coverage.
“It’s personal for us,” said Norman Bristol Colón, special assistant to the Secretary of State and Director of Special Projects for the Pennsylvania Department of State. “We can’t leave Puerto Rico alone.”
In the United States, Puerto Ricans are the second largest Latinx population after those of Mexican descent. Many have been coordinating fundraisers such as bake sales, 5k races, and pizza parties via social media to raise money.
Rose Figueroa, an engineering consultant, has organized a non-profit organization located in Florida called Puerto Rico Rises to collect and deliver materials and supplies to the island. Florida itself has a Puerto Rican population of approximately one million people compared to Texas’ Puerto Rican population of 177,000.
“It’s a very debilitating feeling to watch it unfold on TV and not be there to help,” said attorney Benny Agosto Jr. to NBC News. Agosto’s private law practice has been gathering medicine, dialysis machines, and raising money to send to Puerto Rico. “Even if we’re tired and weary over the hurricane recovery efforts in Houston, we need to do something to help Puerto Rico out,” he said.
Despite Texas and Florida having been affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the recovery process has been steadily progressing. Within 10 days, Florida was able to deliver power to its population of 4.4 million people with help from 28,000 volunteers and workers from over 30 states. However, fewer than 15% of Puerto Ricans have power after 19 days, and the local power company on the island is bankrupt.
Despite this, boricuas across the country refuse to give up until Puerto Rico receives the relief it needs. Over 14.3 million tons of textiles donated by the U.S. help to clothe families around the world. The key challenge now is to focus those charitable acts on Puerto Rico without disaster fatigue slowing down relief efforts.
“We’re trying to make sure people keep paying attention after disaster fatigue sets in and they move on,” said Flavio Cumpiano, a Puerto Rican lawyer based in Washington, D.C.
An emergency supplemental appropriations bill for Puerto Rico is currently being pushed for approval in Washington. In the meantime, many organizations and volunteers urge others to help Puerto Rico any way they can.
“It’s important to get involved because human beings are in a desperate situation,” said Federico de Jesús, president of the consulting firms FDJ Solutions. “And if we don’t do it, nobody will.”