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Maria: Long Island Puerto Ricans fear for safety of friends, family

The cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Maria, as

The cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Maria, as of Tuesday evening, Sept. 19, 2017. Credit: NOAA

Puerto Ricans on Long Island were dreading the expected Wednesday morning arrival of Hurricane Maria to the Caribbean island, fearing for relatives and friends sitting in the path of the second major storm to hit them this hurricane season.

This time they braced for a direct hit, following a brush from Hurricane Irma over a week ago.

Melissa Figueroa, a Hempstead resident born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, said she has been calling friends and neighbors to check on them. She has property near coastal areas in the northeast part of the island.

“They have gotten the warning for storm surge and everyone is evacuating,” said Figueroa, 37. “I worry for my little town” in Puerto Rico “and for the people, because there are many elderly residents there and they don’t have a lot of resources.”

The self-governing U.S. territory has been struggling economically. A financial oversight and management board was appointed in 2016 with all but one position appointed by the U.S. president.

Nearly 100,000 residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties identify as Puerto Ricans in recent U.S. Census Bureau surveys, though not all were born on the island.

The island’s government was under financial constraints when this hurricane season arrived and Irma damaged the electric grid. Puerto Ricans here said they’ve heard that swaths of the San Juan Metro area remain without power, some without running water.

They fear the island of 3,515 square miles and more than 3 million people may not be ready for another powerful storm.

“Here and over there, people are on edge,” said Felipito Palacios, 62, radio host of Onda Nueva, a weekly Puerto Rican music show on Stony Brook University’s WUSB station. “They went through some stuff with Irma and a whole bunch of people still haven’t got back to normal, and here comes round two.”

Tuesday’s forecast from the National Hurricane Center showed Maria packing sustained winds of 160 mph as it aimed for the island’s southeastern corner. The storm was expected to cut a diagonal path toward the island’s northwest on Wednesday, before hitting the Dominican Republic Thursday.

“This hurricane looks like it’s going to envelop the whole island,” said Luis Valenzuela, 65, a professor at Stony Brook, born in New York to Puerto Rican parents. He has been in touch with relatives and friends on the island.

“What I try to impress to them,” said Valenzuela, “is that you cannot hesitate to make decisions about your safety because everything is replaceable.”

Margarita Espada, an island native who organizes the yearly Puerto Rican parade in Brentwood, said Puerto Rico will need help to recover from the season’s ravages. “I know people there feel like no one’s been paying attention,” said Espada, 51.

Espada said that, rather than worrying from a distance, she would have liked to be in Puerto Rico, near her daughter and other relatives, riding out the storm.

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