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  • The San Juan Daily Star

New York scrambles to send aid to Caribbean battered by Hurricane Fiona

A street flooded after the passing of Hurricane Fiona in Barrio Playita, a neighborhood in Salinas, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 19, 2022.

By Hurubie Meko

Almost exactly five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, organizations and officials in New York are responding to another storm that has unleashed heavy rains, flash floods and mudslides on the island and the nearby Dominican Republic since Sunday.

Hurricane Fiona doused parts of Puerto Rico with more than 30 inches of rain between Sunday and Monday. About 1,000 people were rescued across the island, where many streets disappeared beneath coursing muddy rivers. At least one person died in Puerto Rico and in the Dominican Republic, where heavy rains and gale winds triggered mudslides in the eastern region of the neighboring nation.

Puerto Rico is home to about 3.3 million people, while the Dominican Republic has a population of roughly 10.7 million. New York City has some of the largest populations of each group outside of their native lands, with about 708,000 people of Dominican origin and roughly 660,000 people of Puerto Rican origin, according to census data.

As New Yorkers scrambled to aid Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Fiona continued onto the Turks and Caicos Islands as a Category 3 storm Tuesday. The storm is expected to turn north and approach Bermuda by late Thursday.

So far, the relief effort has moved quicker and been better coordinated than the response five years ago, said Marjorie Velázquez, a city councilor from the Bronx. In a 2018 report, the Federal Emergency Management Agency acknowledged breakdowns in communication, lack of adequate supplies and staffing issues that led to failures in the response to Hurricane Maria.

Five years ago, there weren’t enough volunteers to distribute supplies arriving at Puerto Rican ports, Velázquez said. Now organizations in New York City are working directly with groups on the island, she said. On Sunday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Puerto Rico, mobilizing FEMA.

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that 100 New York state troopers would be deployed to Puerto Rico in the coming weeks. She added that the state was in contact with the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, to arrange aid. And Eric Adams, New York City’s mayor, announced that a team of emergency management specialists would be deployed to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

The American Red Cross is assessing damage in the region and delivering supplies to shelters, said Katie Wilkes, a spokesperson for the organization.

The New York City-based Diaspora for Puerto Rico is working to repair homes in Puerto Rico and make them hurricane resilient. Surey Miranda, a co-founder of the nonprofit, said it was partnering with Stronger Than Maria, a local organization.

Miranda said her group was also working to raise money for items like solar lamps, rechargeable fans, portable power stations and solar batteries.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re not overflowing people or organizations with supplies that they may not be looking for,” Miranda said. She added that relief efforts in New York were being led in many cases by people displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Velázquez was able to connect with family members in Puerto Rico and make sure they were all safe Monday, after trying to reach them for more than a day, she said. However, they lost power even before the storm hit the island, she said, and have now lost running water.

Velázquez said she was determined not to see a repeat of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. “We’re going to get it right this time,” she said.

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