The Puerto Rican community on Long Island is mobilizing to help the Caribbean island as the latest natural disaster, Hurricane Fiona, wreaks havoc with intense flooding.
Five years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Fiona is turning streets into rivers, knocking out electricity systems, and endangering food supplies.
“It seems like Puerto Rico can’t catch a break, from Hurricane Maria, to the earthquake to now Fiona,” said Suffolk County Legis. Samuel Gonzalez, who is of Puerto Rican descent and still has relatives on the island.
Long Island is home to a large Puerto Rican population, centered for decades in communities such as Brentwood but now dispersed throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to community leaders.
Collection efforts are being organized at an auto body collision business and a theater group in Bay Shore, and a radio station in Ronkonkoma. The Suffolk Police Department is also accepting donations.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Maria five years ago, and never fully recovered, Gonzalez said, adding that many homes in the interior still have blue tarps instead of roofs.
Now Fiona is inflicting more pain.
“It’s devastation. It’s injury upon injury,” said Ana Maria Caraballo, a disc jockey at La Fiesta 98.5 FM, based in Ronkonkoma. “Maria was wind. This time it’s the water.”
“We are all suffering from PTSD,” she said.
A group called Jibaritos With Troops, which formed to help the island after Hurricane Maria, is mobilizing again — and forming a coalition with other community organizations, said co-founder Amee Hernandez of Deer Park.
She said Hurricane Maria did its damage quickly, but Fiona is lingering.
“The water is up by 28 inches and it’s not stopping,” she said. “Everything is under water. People are moving up to the roof of their houses.”
Her relatives on the island “are very overwhelmed. They are stressed because obviously the infrastructure still wasn’t up to date because of all the earthquakes and Hurricane Maria,” she said. “I would say that they are traumatized still from the other stuff. It’s a trigger for them.”
Gonzalez said he was able to reach his mother in Caguas, in central Puerto Rico, and was amazed by how calm she seemed.
“I guess she has gone through so many of these,” he said. “At 83 years old I don’t think there is anything she hasn’t seen,” though “I can tell the worry in her voice.”
Hernandez’s group is collecting goods at New York Auto Collision, 11 Madison Ave., Bay Shore. The business is owned by the group’s co-founder, Jose Gonzalez.
Hernandez, a U.S. Army staff sergeant, said she handles logistics for similar situations with the military. Her group has formed a coalition with Caraballo’s radio station and with Margarita Espada, founder of Teatro Yerbabruja in Bay Shore.
Samuel Gonzalez, the legislator, is also joining forces with them.
The radio station will hold a collection event Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of its studio at 3075 Veterans Memorial Highway in Ronkonkoma.
Organizers said they hope to ship the items to Puerto Rico by next Monday or Tuesday.
They are asking for nonperishable food in cans, flashlights, batteries (no lithium), insect repellent, water purifiers, feminine products, trash bags, baby products, generators and first aid kits.
They are calling the effort “Island to Island, United for Puerto Rico.”
At a news conference on Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said New York State is sending 100 Spanish-speaking state troopers to Puerto Rico as a first step in its assistance to the island.
She noted that New York has a longtime connection to Puerto Rico and is home to one of the largest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in the U.S.
Hurricane Fiona is "reminiscent of five years ago when we were all just shocked by the scale of devastation on the island” when Hurricane Maria struck, she said.
The troopers will be just the initial help New York plans to offer, she said.
“We will be there for the long-term recovery. We know from the Maria experience this is not fixed in a day, a week or a month. It takes a sustained, concerted approach.”
Suffolk County police said they will collect donations at precinct houses and at the department’s headquarters in Yaphank through Sept. 30.
A community liaison officer in the Fifth Precinct is coordinating delivery of the donations with a police officer in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said.
“When people need help, we will do what we need to do to help them through a difficult time,” Harrison said.