Puerto Ricans in Connecticut prepare to help as Hurricane Maria barrels toward island

Puerto Ricans in Connecticut prepare to help as Hurricane Maria barrels toward island

Record-Journal


Puerto Ricans on the island and family members in Connecticut breathed a short-lived sigh of relief after Hurricane Irma left the island bruised but standing, but they have now returned to fretful waiting and preparations as Hurricane Maria closes in.

Now a Category 5 hurricane in the Caribbean, Maria decimated Dominica Monday evening and was expected to make landfall in Puerto Rico late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The storm, fluctuating between a Category 4 and Category 5, was driving a surge that could raise water levels by up to 9 feet near the storm’s center and could dump 15 inches of rain or more on Puerto Rico and the already battered Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced Tuesday the government has prepared 500 shelters for people who cannot stay with relatives or friends during the passage of Hurricane Maria.

“No generation has seen a hurricane like this since San Felipe in 1928,” Rossello said in a statement. “This is an unprecedented atmospheric system. It’s time to act and look for a safe place if you live in flood-prone areas or in vulnerable structures.”

Rossello reminded those living on the U.S. territory that when winds reach 50 miles per hour, emergency management team members will not be available.

Meriden resident Hector Cardona spoke with his sister Domencia Matos of Aguada, Puerto Rico on Monday. Aguada is on the western coast of the island, as opposed to San Juan on the northeast, which took the brunt of Irma.

“She lost power during Irma but got it back,” Cardona said. “But this is going to be worse. They are covering the windows. She has a very strong house made of concrete and steel beams. She is going to stay in the house.”

Meriden City Councilor Miguel Castro has family members in the cities of Arecibo, near the north western coast, and Canovanas, near the northeastern coast.

Cardona said Puerto Rican radio stations in Connecticut are in talks with Puerto Rican officials to help with relief efforts to impacted areas. He expects that will increase after Maria strikes.

Castro has reached out to his family on the island.

“They are preparing for the worst,” Castro said. “The National Guard and public safety are using all the island’s resources.”

Castro said there is also a strong coalition of Christian radio stations and television stations that are broadcasting weather coverage and public service announcements on the island. They can reach local churches, homes, and non-profits to allow members of the clergy, non-profits and volunteers to reach those in remote villages and regions, Castro said. They can be particularly helpful in getting children, the sick and elderly to any of the 500 shelters.

“They have a wide transmission and are using resources to get the messages out there,” Castro said. “There are areas of the island where they may not have access. They make sure people with boots on the ground get to secluded areas.”

Castro is trying to reach a cousin in Arecibo who is a paramedic to help maintain connections to his family during and after the storm.

The Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda is an organization facilitating relief efforts for Hurricane Irma victims and will continue with Maria.

“We are still in a mode of raising funds; we are working with the folks on the ground,” said Jason Ortiz, the organization’s president.

The group has enlisted volunteers to help make phone calls for donations, store donated goods, assist with transportation, contact elected officials, translate/communicate with families on the island, donate money, food and water, and more services.

“We will be meeting (Wednesday) to assess damage,” Ortiz said. “We will mobilize from the governor’s office to get messages out.”

The Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda has contacts in various parts of the island who can transmit information to send back to the U.S. mainland to determine priority needs, Ortiz said. The group can also help family members find contact information for relatives on the island, or help break through any bureaucratic hurdles, he added.


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