New York rushes aid to rav­aged Puerto Rico

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - By Jen­nifer Peltz and David Klep­per

NEWYORK » New York state, home to the U.S. main­land’s big­gest Puerto Ri­can com­mu­nity, is send­ing a lot more than thoughts and prayers to the hur­ri­cane-rav­aged is­land.

Be­tween them, New York state and city have com­mit­ted hun­dreds of work­ers and or­ga­nized aid rang­ing from res­cue he­li­copters to field ra­tions. Gov. An­drew Cuomo took the first flight al­lowed to land af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria slammed Puerto Rico last week, and City Coun­cil Speaker Melissa Mark-Viver­ito joined a city team that trav­eled this week­end to pro­vide re­lief to an is­land that was home to sev­eral mem­bers’ par­ents, in­clud­ing her own mother.

“She tells me ev­ery day not to worry about her, though the level of des­per­a­tion is get­ting there,” Mark-Viver­ito said Wed­nes­day, her voice break­ing. Her mother had left her dam­aged home to stay with friends in a high-rise with no power and had stood in a five-hour line to get gaso­line.

State Assem­bly­manMar­cos Cre­spo, mean­while, is en­dur­ing an ag­o­niz­ing wait to hear from his own mother and rel­a­tives even as he fields un­ceas­ing phone calls from con­stituents try­ing to reach theirs.

“The one thing that keeps me go­ing is know­ing how many peo­ple are will­ing to help,” said Cre­spo, a Demo­crat like Cuomo and MarkViver­ito.

For politi­cians and every­day New York­ers, the storm is pulling at the ties be­tween their state and Puerto Rico. The is­land is 1,600 miles (2,575 kilo­me­ters) away, but con­nec­tions of­ten feel much closer in a state with over 1 mil­lion peo­ple of Puerto Ri­can de­scent.

“This is per­sonal” to New York­ers, Cuomo said Wed­nes­day. “Any­thing this state can do, we will do.”

That in­cludes com­mit­ting hun­dreds of state troop­ers and other work­ers, plus or­ga­niz­ing an aid pack­age that reads like the shop­ping list for a small army: 34,000 bot­tles of wa­ter, 10,000 field ra­tions, 1,400 cots, 500 flash­lights, 10 elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tors and four Black Hawk he­li­copters. Be­yond that, one of New York’s big­gest home­grown pop stars, Jen­nifer Lopez, do­nated $1 mil­lion to re­lief ef­forts at a press con­fer­ence with Cuomo on Sun­day.

New York City has about 700,000 peo­ple of Puerto Ri­can de­scent — mak­ing up about 1 in ev­ery 12 city res­i­dents, and roughly twice the pop­u­la­tion of the Puerto Ri­can cap­i­tal of San Juan. More than 140 New York City fire­fight­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers and other work­ers are in Puerto Rico to help, and Demo­cratic Mayor Bill de Bla­sio says he is pre­par­ing for an ex­pected in­flux of thou­sands of Puerto Ri­cans flee­ing the storm’s dam­age.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has sent thou­sands of em­ploy­ees to help the U.S. ter­ri­tory with needs from fu­el­ing hos­pi­tal gen­er­a­tors to try­ing to avert a dam col­lapse. Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump plans to visit next week.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello and Res­i­dent Com- mis­sioner Jen­nifer Gon­za­lez, the is­land’s non-vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Congress, have praised Trump’s re­sponse. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion also has faced com­plaints that its ef­forts lagged re­sponses to hur­ri­canes that hit the­main­land.

Maria tore through Puerto Rico last week, killing at least 16 peo­ple and leav­ing nearly all 3.4 mil­lion res­i­dents with­out power and most with­out wa­ter.

“It’s be­ing felt deeply here” in New York, says Ed­win Me­len­dez, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Puerto Ri­can Stud­ies at city-run Hunter Col­lege. The cen­ter’s web­site has re­peat­edly crashed since it posted a list of ways to do­nate, he said.

New York’s Puerto Ri­can pop­u­la­tion be­gan grow­ing sig­nif­i­cantly in the 1950s and ‘60s as peo­ple left the is­land in search of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity. While many fam­i­lies have now been in New York for gen­er­a­tions, many iden­tify strongly with their her­itage. There’s even a term, “Nuy­or­i­can,” that some New York­ers with Puerto Ri­can back­grounds use to span both cul­tures. The city’s an­nual Puerto Ri­can Day sees one of New York’s big­gest pa­rades of the year.

That’s not lost on New York’s politi­cians, many of whom make an an­nual trip to San Juan for a Latino is­sues con­fer­ence called So­mos El Fu­turo, or We’re the Fu­ture.

Puerto Ri­cans on the is­land can­not vote in fed­eral elec­tions, but as U.S. cit­i­zens, they can vote if they move to the main­land.

JULIE JACOBSON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Juan Ro­jas, right, of Queens, hugs his 4-year-old grand­son Elias Ro­jas, as his daugh­ter-in­law Cori Ro­jas, left, car­ries her daugh­ter Lilly, 3, through the ter­mi­nal at JFK air­port af­ter Cori ar­rived on a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tues­day, Sept. 26, 2017, in New York. Cori Ro­jas, who is a school teacher in Puerto Rico, fled Puerto Rico with her chil­dren af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria left the is­land dev­as­tated and will stay with her in-laws in Queens while her hus­band, who works for a global in­sur­ance firm chose to stay be­hind.

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