HARTFORD, CT— Puerto Ricans in Hartford sat helpless this week as Hurricane Maria ravaged their island.
Jason Ortiz, president of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda, said he hasn’t been able to reach his family on the island since Tuesday. The hurricane hit on Wednesday and by Thursday President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration, which opens the door to federal disaster relief funding.
Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico without the ability to establish a command center to receive any supplies, according to Puerto Rican officials who Skyped Friday with Connecticut officials.
“Our main focus right now is saving lives,” Luis Davila, deputy director for Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration, told U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and local officials.
The government of Puerto Rico emphasized the need for military assistance to help in search and rescue efforts. They’ve also stressed the need for monetary donations and construction materials such as ropes and tarps.
On Friday, Connecticut deployed a C-130H cargo plane and seven Airmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing of the Connecticut National Guard to help with response and relief efforts in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. The unit includes C-130H pilots, crewmembers, loadmasters, and maintainers.
First, the crew will drop off supplies in St. Thomas, followed by a second supply drop-off in Puerto Rico. From there they will fly to Georgia, where they will stand by for potential follow-up missions.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of power generators. Especially for the elderly homes, for hospitals,” Davila said.
The storm comes just three months after the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority declared bankruptcy due to a $9 billion hole deepened by a lengthy recession on the island. The island itself filed for bankruptcy back in May.
Davila said the best way to help is to make a donation to United for Puerto Rico http://prfaa.pr.gov/unitedforpuertorico/. It’s the official government site created prior to Hurricane Irma.
Jon Rodriguez, a Waterbury police officer, asked Davila how he can help with search and rescue. Citing their inability to organize, Davila said they could not currently accept this help because it’s difficult to get around the island and to the island.
Blumenthal pledged his support to help in Puerto Rico’s recovery.
“We will be mounting a major effort to do as much for Puerto Rico as for any other area of the United States,” Blumenthal said Friday
While acknowledging the need to stand by the Puerto Rican community, he did not hold back the need for financial assistance.
“Hearts and money need to go out to them,” Blumenthal said.
Stressing the complete support from Connecticut’s members in Congress, Blumenthal urged the American public to call members of Congress throughout the U.S. and demand legislative support for the island.
“This humanitarian crisis is very immediate,” Blumenthal said.