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Connecticut's Puerto Rican Community Demands Federal Help For Stricken Island

Sep 22, 2017

As Puerto Ricans emerge from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, family members back in the continental U.S. are desperately trying to get in touch. In Connecticut, political leaders are focused on both how to rebuild, and how to find their loved ones.

Hartford city councilman James Sanchez hasn’t heard from his family on the island since the storm began.

“It’s frustrating, it’s frustrating waking up at 1, 2 in the morning, trying to call, trying to hope that they get that one little dot of a signal just to say -- hey, are you ok?” he said.

Sanchez said his mother, who lives in the southwest corner of the island, prepared for the storm by freezing water to keep her fridge cold after the power went out.

“I told her to go out to the yard, take down the plantains, bananas -- dig up the roots -- coconuts, mangoes, whatever you can and put it in the house, because it’s going to be a very serious situation,” he said.

Debris strewn across a street in Juncos, Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy Frankie Colon.

Officials are advising family members not to immediately travel to the island to help with relief efforts. But Sanchez said he plans to fly to Puerto Rico next week with camping gear and a chainsaw.

“I’m going down there, because I have the experience of cutting trees. I was in the marines -- survival is an instinct for me now,” he told WNPR.

Many communities in Connecticut are raising funds and planning private relief efforts, but they also want to know what the federal government will do.

Senator Richard Blumenthal said he’ll be lobbying his colleagues this weekend to provide an answer.

“We will be mounting a major effort to do as much for Puerto Rico as for any other area of the United States that has been hit by this storm," he told a community meeting in Hartford.

"Anywhere there are Americans, not only our heart but our money should go out to them," Blumenthal said.

Senator Blumenthal called for federal infrastructure funding for Puerto Rico at a community meeting in Hartford Friday.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

But he warned with the senate preoccupied with the drama over the healthcare bill a resolution on help for Puerto Rico may take time.

Maribel La Luz had been trying to reach her 90-year-old grandfather since the storm hit. He lives in a house about fifteen minutes away on a normal day from the rest of his family. They’re in a condo with a generator so they’ve been able to send an occasional text.

“And my grandfather, although he’s 90 and although he’s sharp as a tack and strong, we haven’t been able to contact [him]. And, so now we’re starting to get really antsy and really worried,” she explained.

La Luz lives in Hartford, but much of her father’s family is on the island. And though the condo is safe, she said water is limited, the roads are hard to travel, and there’s concern that, at some point, the diesel for the condo’s generator will run out.

Those are just the immediate concerns. But there are others.

La Luz received a text message with a photo of her grandfather with a family friend, confirming his safety, late Friday. Photo courtesy Maribel La Luz

“They’re gonna need stuff," she said. "They’re asking me to send them batteries, battery-operated fans, flashlights, stuff like that. But I have no idea when or if I’m going to be able to send that. I don’t know what that means."

So she and her family are anxious. They want to help but, for the moment, there’s not much they can do.

“When you start to get concerned, you’re just like, what options do we have? Are we gonna walk down there? Do we take a boat? But we’re not going to be able to sit on our hands much longer. Because it’s our family.”

Late Friday, after that interview, La Luz got in touch with some good news. Her grandfather, Alejandro La Luz, had been reached. She even got a text message with a photo to prove it.

This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.