Puerto Rico

As Community Organizations Respond to Puerto Rico, Local Leaders Push for More Funding

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Puerto Rico continues disaster relief efforts after the devastation of Hurricane Fiona.

Dr. Brenda Rivera-Garcia, a senior director of Latin American and Caribbean programs for Americares, describes this storm throwing another wrench at prior recovery efforts.

As Connecticut family members and friends still try to get in touch with loved ones in Puerto Rico, local community groups are on the ground trying to help, but are pushing for more to be done stateside.

Americares, headquartered in Stamford, has a team based in San Juan.

“We are prepared to deliver critically-needed medicines and relief supplies from our global distribution center here in Stamford, Connecticut,” said Cora Nally, Americares director of international emergency response.

Rivera-Garcia called into a news conference held by Senator Chris Murphy from Puerto Rico Friday. She works closely with health centers on the island.

“Just yesterday as we were connecting with the directors of these centers, we heard of the stories of how in southeastern Puerto Rico, it had taken some of the staff more than 24 hours to try and reach the centers through floodwaters," Rivera-Garcia said.

The American Red Cross has a team on the ground, including a volunteer from Woodbridge. The Hispanic Federation, which has a group in Hartford, established a permanent team on the ground in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria made landfall, almost five years to the day that Fiona hit.

“We’re happy to report that our entire team and their families are safe and fairing well,” said Ingrid Álvarez-Dimarzo, vice president for policy and strategic engagement.

While they face their own struggles at home, Hispanic Federation staff in Puerto Rico are delivering power generators to vulnerable patients on dialysis, providing funding and more.

“In anticipation to Fiona touching down, the team distributed over 11,000 solar lamps, as soon as roads begin to clear there’s another 20,000 solar lamps to be distributed,” Álvarez-Dimarzo said.

While the Hispanic Federation said the local government is doing better responding this time around, it’s pushing for the federal government to help build a resilient Puerto Rico and to give money to nonprofits on the ground instead of their government, a response they say will be faster and more efficient.

“I hate to say it, but increasingly my Republican friends in the Senate seem to forget that Puerto Rico is part of the United States of America and we have an obligation to help Puerto Rico just like we have an obligation to help every other part of this country when a disaster hits,” Murphy said.

Murphy is pushing for more emergency disaster funds to be approved to head that way.

In addition, he’s urging President Biden’s administration to declare the feds pick up all FEMA cleanup costs. He said typically FEMA provides 75% of costs and the state or territory is required to pick up the rest.

But he said this just is “unmanageable” for Puerto Rico who has dealt with storm after storm, among other problems.

“Though we don’t yet know the full scope of the damage, it is likely the estimates will be in the neighborhood of or over $10 billion,” Murphy said.

“This is very personal to me. In my hometown of Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico, right now, I have cousins that are in one foot of water, five days after this storm,” said Rep. Geraldo Reyes of Waterbury.

Reyes said he’s befuddled we are still having the same conversations about caring for and responding to the island, like we would any other continental state.

He says, his niece, who is a nurse, “…can not go to work unless she goes around the whole island and even then she doesn’t know if she’ll make it all the way through.”

Murphy said if any of Connecticut’s loved ones are looking for information or have questions about FEMA to give his office or Sen. Blumenthal’s a call.

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