New Yorkers with ties to Puerto Rico are reeling after Hurricane Fiona left much of the island without food and water.
And they have been here before. It was just five years ago that Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, laid waste to large swaths of the island.
“Like any Puerto Rican stateside or on the island will tell you, it's immediate PTSD,” said New Yorker David Galarza Santa, a local Puerto Rican organizer with family and friends on the island. “We’ve been through this time and time again.”
Many of the same local organizations that sprung into action during Hurricane Maria are helping again. Among them, the New York-based national nonprofit the Hispanic Federation is accepting donations. Juan Ramos, the head of the Williamsburg group Southside United, said his group was in contact with the Hispanic Federation and other local organizations in Puerto Rico about next steps. Five years ago, his group partnered with other organizations to collect and fly personal-care items to Puerto Rico.
Like any Puerto Rican stateside or on the island will tell you, it's immediate PTSD. We’ve been through this time and time again.
Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez said she spoke to relatives living on the island Sunday night, amid widespread flooding. She hasn’t heard from them since. Hurricane Maria took her cousin’s life five years ago. “I just keep on praying my family’s safe,” Velázquez said.
Her office is working with Diaspora for Puerto Rico to collect donations for solar panels and electric batteries.
Local and state elected officials are pitching in.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she spoke with Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Pierluisi on Sunday. His first request, she said, was for boots on the ground – as many Spanish-speaking law-enforcement officers that she could spare.
"He wanted to know if we could send Spanish-speaking police officers to help respond to the needs of citizens, traffic and lifting up and helping remove barriers on the street,” Hochul said Monday at her Manhattan office. “They wanted people that were trained in law enforcement.”
All told, Hochul said, at least 50 troopers have been activated for the Puerto Rican mission, with another 50 slated to travel there in the coming weeks. They’ll be equipped with drones to survey the damage – another request of Pierluisi.
At the same time, Hochul said, the state is organizing with major corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta to arrange humanitarian flights with supplies, including baby formula, to Puerto Rico.
Michael Ivory, director of communications for Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, said her office is meeting with Bronx Assembly members, council members and other elected officials to figure out the best plan of attack.
“It’s been a bit traumatizing given that it’s been five years since Hurricane Maria,” said Jonathan Diaz, who lives in New York City and has been worried about his family on the island. “All the feelings from that event are at the surface again – are my friends and family OK?”
Diaz said he learned Monday afternoon his relatives were safe, but he’s still processing reports about the widespread devastation.
Adriana Erin Rivera, who lives in Westchester County and has been in touch with family in Puerto Rico, also worries about how the island will recover after another disaster. “A lot of the island still has PTSD from Hurricane Maria,” she said.
Rivera’s family has managed to stay safe, but she said the vigil has been terrifying. “It’s very difficult being on the mainland, and knowing the catastrophe that’s happening on the island,” she said.
After a disaster like this, making sure people have access to basic necessities like food, clothing, and phone chargers is essential, Rivera said.
Another relief group lending assistance is PRxPR Relief. And the Red Cross has also coordinating relief efforts throughout the region.
Jon Campbell contributed to this article.