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New Britain Residents Team Up Against Hurricane Maria For Puerto Rico

With water and food a concern in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, some Connecticut residents are looking to help. Gathering supplies is one thing; getting them to the island is another.

Lea esta historia en español. / Read this story in Spanish.

Hamed Ayala almost got his mother out of Puerto Rico before Hurricane Irma arrived. But she wouldn’t leave her home near the southwestern tip of the island. Ayala didn’t hear from her after the direct hit of Maria.

“But that area was not hit as hard as the other side of the island, so I’m confident that she’s okay,” Ayala said. “However, my mom’s 83 years old so I’m hoping she didn’t run out of medication yet. I’m hoping she has water and I’m hoping she has food.”

Ayala is speaking out back behind the Puerto Rican Society of New Britain, where this week, he and his friends -- members of the Boriqueneers Motor Cycle Club -- joined the society in collecting goods. They packed them up, moved the packages with a forklift, and then secured them with tape to pallets.

Ayala said the relief effort is soothing for him and it calms his nerves. He’s gathered about 50,000 bottles of water already.

“I know you see probably 15 cases of water there,” Ayala said. “But if you look over there to your right, that’s all water -- there’s 26 pallets of water there. The main thing is to get it to the docks. And we’re working on that right now.”

But it hasn’t been easy. It costs around $4,500 to send a container to the island. And there’s no guarantee it would get there in time to be useful. But that hasn’t stopped him and Hector Torres, who ran the forklift.

“[I’m from] Maunabo,” Torres said. “And even my sister’s house got ripped off the ground. And I haven’t heard anything about my family. The only one that got in touch with me was my niece.”

His niece is a dispatcher. She made it so someone could update Hector on what happened with his family, but that person had to go two towns over to get cell service. And the news wasn’t great.   

“One of my nieces got in touch with another one of my nieces and told her that they [her family] were desperate for water,” Torres said. “The water that they were drinking was making them sick -- vomiting and diarrhea.”

Credit Frankie Graziano / WNPR
Donated goods taped to a pallet in back of the Puerto Rican Society of New Britain.

Maggie De Jesus is the president of the Puerto Rican Society. While she’s happy to pay shipping costs for all of these supplies, her main concern is logistics once the shipment arrives.

“They have no food, so to me it’s important that we get this shipped out as soon as possible and it gets delivered to the people,” De Jesus said.

For Ayala, it all goes back to his mother’s safety. He’s tried four times to buy a ticket to the island. But all four flights were cancelled.

“I’m actually going there to pick up my mom and bring her back,” Ayala said. “She can’t stay there by herself.”

Almost all Puerto Ricans are without power and half of the 3.4 million people on the island are without running water. 

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

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