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Puerto Ricans on LI, in NYC start drives to help storm-ravaged island

A man stands in the ruins of his

A man stands in the ruins of his home in Catano town, Juana Matos, Puerto Rico, on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, as he surveys damage from Hurricane Maria. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Hector Retamal

Puerto Ricans in the metropolitan area, still unable to reach many of their loved ones after Hurricane Maria crippled the island, were doing their best to help by starting relief efforts Thursday.

Charity drives announced separately on Long Island and in New York City will collect funds, and Long Island advocates are accepting emergency supplies.

“The important thing is that we get the effort going now, so that as Puerto Rico becomes accessible the goods can be delivered,” said Luis Valenzuela, 65, a Stony Brook University professor who is among those helping to organize the Long Island effort. “This will make two days of an emergency, and food stocks are going to be depleted, if they aren’t already.”

The relief effort on the Island — dubbed “Unidos por Puerto Rico” — will start immediately, accepting monetary donations and supplies, including nonperishable food, flashlights and batteries of all types, portable radios, diapers, hand sanitizers, bottled water and first-aid kits.

Donations will be collected at Teatro Yerbabruja’s Arts Center, 63 Carleton Ave. in Central Islip, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Supporters are hosting a Sunday radiothon on Spanish-language station La Nueva Fiesta, WBON/98.5 FM.

Images from the island posted on social media were terrifying — rivers of muddy water coursing through neighborhoods, collapsed communications towers, downed wires and snapped electric poles, broken bridges and flipped-over vehicles.

The entire island was without electric power, and neither cellphones nor landline phones appeared to be working in most places.

Margarita Espada, director of the Teatro Yerbabruja nonprofit, which is coordinating the Long Island effort, said she hasn’t slept but a few hours since the hurricane hit her native Puerto Rico.

She hasn’t heard from her daughter, mother, father and others, but she spoke with her brother, Alexander Espada, 52. He works for the telephone company and called her from Cayey, a village in the central part of the island where he found a faint cell signal.

“He says it looks like the island just went through war, that there are fallen walls, blocked and flooded roads, and pieces of debris all over,” said Espada, 51. “It looks like someone dropped a bomb on Puerto Rico.”

In New York City, politicians and community leaders launched their “Unidos” relief effort Thursday with a fund to be managed by the nonprofit Hispanic Federation.

“Our hearts, our prayers are with Puerto Rico,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a City Hall news conference, where he was joined by Latino elected officials.

De Blasio said nine FDNY and NYPD personnel already were in Puerto Rico, sent after Category 5 Hurricane Irma skirted the island on Sept. 6. Another 27 first responders were to be deployed Thursday, and eight to 10 emergency management officials will follow.

Separately, the American Red Cross has a handful of personnel on the island and expects to send “dozens more in the coming two days,” said Michael de Vulpillieres, spokesman for the American Red Cross in Greater New York.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) said Puerto Rico’s recovery and rebuilding efforts from hurricanes Irma and Maria probably will cost $10 billion. She urged the federal government to step up and provide funding to the U.S. territory, which was grappling with a fiscal crisis even before the storms hit.

“This is an unprecedented event that requires a monumental response,” Velazquez said.

With Laura Figueroa

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