Puerto Rico’s Needs Hit Home


Only now, fully a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, are the devastating effects of the storm coming to be fully understood.

There’s a power grid that’s essentially disabled, keeping many of the island’s 3.5 million people in the dark, and a heavily damaged communications network that prevents worried families from checking on their loved ones and slows down damage assessment efforts. There are too few repair workers on the job—just a few hundred electrical workers from other regions, for instance, compared with the 18,000 who poured into Florida after Hurricane Irma and the 5,300 who arrived in coastal Texas after Hurricane Harvey. The extensive damage to the island’s port also presents a major challenge in delivering needed equipment and supplies.

Many of the hospitals and clinics in Puerto Rico are operating with hastily installed portable generators, but drinkable water available to the general public is precious and much of the food that people consume comes from cans.

Some areas have been harder hit than others, of course, but there’s practically no section of the island left untouched. 

The tragedy of Puerto Rico is an especially painful one for New Yorkers, who have long had a close connection with the territory. Many of us have roots in Puerto Rico. Many Puerto Rican New Yorkers and their families have been here since the 1940s and 1950s, and most are Catholic.

It is heartening then to see the many Church efforts that have taken place in local parishes and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where a special Disaster Relief Mass celebrated in Spanish by Cardinal Dolan drew more than 1,500 people Oct. 8. 

The cardinal, who will visit Puerto Rico next week, told us the next day that second collections taken up in parishes, along with contributions of generous benefactors, have brought funds raised in the archdiocese on behalf of Puerto Rico to nearly $500,000. (The number is now $700,000.)

In addition, many people who live here have started the process of bringing relatives and friends to New York, on either a temporary or permanent basis. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, after all, and have the same rights as any of us to move out of harm’s way and pursue a better way of life.Still, it’s important to remember that most residents of Puerto Rico will not be moving on. And while private efforts to assist them have been admirable, we hope in the weeks and months ahead they can be more fully coordinated so as to provide the best that we possibly can, and we’d like to see a stepped-up effort at the federal level.

Our faith reminds us that we are all children of the same God, who watches over us all and blesses even meager efforts on behalf of others, some of whom we know deeply as family members and others who are members of a larger family under God. 

We hope that New Yorkers will continue to feel for Puerto Rico on a personal level and will continue to help. They will need us to keep reaching out for a long, long time.


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