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LI relief effort for devastated Puerto Rico begins

People clean the streets in Toa Baja, Puerto

People clean the streets in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island two days earlier, causing dangerous floods, power losses and devastation. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Hector Retamal

The Puerto Rican relief effort on Long Island got started Friday with the first few contributions trickling in from area residents moved by the Caribbean island’s struggles after Hurricane Maria caused severe damage and left widespread flooding.

The local effort was underway as the first delivery of emergency supplies was shipped Friday from New York, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo visiting the island.

The San Juan airport restored some operations.

American Airlines said that it had five flights out of San Juan with five round trips, four connecting to Miami and one to Philadelphia. The planes also would deliver supplies and fly personnel to restore operations, the company said.

Delta, which announced a $250,000 donation to Hurricane Maria relief efforts, planned to restart flights from Kennedy Airport to San Juan on Saturday. JetBlue said that current operations are limited to special humanitarian relief. Southwest said limited service to San Juan would resume Saturday but did not offer more details.

Harry Stumme, the first resident to show up at a collection center in Central Islip, said he had stopped many times in Puerto Rico when he was best known as “Captain Harry” and docked ships full of containers there.

Stumme, 73, an Islip resident, saw the island’s residents struggle after Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989 as a Category 3 storm. This Category 4 storm was unthinkable.

He delivered four cases of bottled water for the effort.

“I saw what it was like to be there without power,” Stumme said. “It’s terrible. To me, I see the pictures . . . and it’s crushing to see what people are going through.”

Others were going to Puerto Rico to help.

Just back from helping Texans pummeled by Hurricane Harvey, Miguel Moreno of North Babylon will fly to San Juan this weekend with other Red Cross volunteers, all firefighters, to aid and comfort those afflicted by the storm.

“That’s what my mother taught me, to help everybody who feels down and out. You give them hope that they can come back and live a normal life,” the retired New York City firefighter said.

The team of 30 former and active firefighters from the Greater New York area expects to distribute and organize food and supplies, possibly also assessing damaged homes — and brightening spirits.

“The toughest part is watching the children, watching them have fun when there’s a disaster like this, and they don’t know exactly what’s wrong, yet they do know they’ve been displaced from their homes, and they do want to go back, and go back to school,” he said.

Moreno, like many New Yorkers who have family members in Puerto Rico, has not spoken with relatives on the island since the day before Maria struck.

Neela Lockel, CEO of the American Red Cross of Long Island, said the New York region has sent about 150 volunteers to help the storm-ravaged, from Texas to Florida, and now Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“They make a lot of sacrifices to go there; it’s not a vacation deployment,” she said. “The work we do is tangible, it’s real, it matters to people.”

Only a small number of people had contributed to the Long Island relief effort by Friday afternoon, though organizers were optimistic that more would support the charity drive over the weekend. They are seeking monetary donations or goods such as baby formula and diapers, nonperishable food, bottled water, batteries of all sizes, flashlights and first-aid kits.

“What we are hoping for is to gather a load of essential items for basic necessities,” said organizer Margarita Espada, director of the Teatro Yerbabruja nonprofit.

The group will collect donations at 63 Carleton Ave. in Central Islip from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The charity drive will be supported by a radiothon at Spanish-language radio station La Nueva Fiesta WBON/98.5 FM on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a drop-off site during the broadcast at 3075 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Suite 201, in Ronkonkoma.

With Joan Gralla

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