My sister Kathy sent a message to the rest of the family last month, after Hurricane Irma passed just north of Puerto Rico, to let us know she was okay. While there was significant damage on the island due to high wind, rain and high tides, residents had escaped much of the horror that Irma later inflicted on Florida.
“We’re fine,” she said, mentioning high winds and some relatively minor damage to her area — Coabey, Puerto Rico, in a somewhat remote section of the island.
But that was before the next storm, Hurricane Maria, hit.
Maria hit the island straight on. Power went out. All the cell towers came down. While some hard copper wire phone systems apparently stayed up, for all intents and purposes, no one on the island could get word out, and we on the outside could not get word in.
Many days later, our family received a brief message somehow that said Kathy and her family were safe, and that was out.
This overpowering sense of relief and the need to support relatives on the stricken island appeared to serve as theme to the recent Hispanic Heritage Parade last Sunday, Oct. 1, that annually pays tribute to all of the Hispanic nationalities that share a common home in Hudson County. This year the parade was witnessed by larger than usual crowds, and thousands of waving Puerto Rican banners and flags.
Led by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and the mayors from many of the Hudson County towns, including Union City Mayor Brian Stack, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, West New York Mayor Felix Roque and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, the parade lasted for several hours as it made its way from North Bergen, through West New York and into Union City, and seemed filled with the desperate hopes of family members who needed some way to express support for those suffering in Puerto Rico.
This was more than about Republicans and Democrats, as Menendez joined Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango in offering support, and dignitaries from Jersey City such as Freeholder Jr. Maldonado and County Family Services Director Ben Lopez were honored.
“The scale of this natural disaster creates serious national security implications and as such, demands the use of extraordinary measures.” – Sen. Robert Menendez
The Port Authority and Goya send help to Puerto Rico
The Port Authority has announced the deployment of more than 70 agency staffers to assist storm-damaged Puerto Rico.
The agency is sending staff from its Aviation Department to help counterparts at San Juan International Airport and other airfields resume full flight operations, port department staff to assist in damage assessments at the Port of San Juan to help get shipping commerce back in operation, and Port Authority Police to help support security initiatives, plus Office of Emergency Management staff to assist in the Commonwealth.
The Port Authority team’s deployment to Puerto Rico is part of the agency’s efforts to assist those in need in Puerto Rico, an effort that also includes a donation drive for non-perishable goods, coordination of business donations to local charities and efforts to provide medical supplies and personnel to the island.
Jersey City-based Goya has donated 300,000 pounds of food to help Puerto Rico. As Puerto Rico faces the biggest challenge in its history, Goya de Puerto Rico is operational and working with only one mission, to help rebuild Puerto Rico, company officials said.
Goya headquarters in Jersey City will coordinate the donation and delivery of 300,000 pounds of food and water, in addition to the donation from Goya U.S. facilities and worldwide.
Back from the disaster zone
For Menendez, the memory was very fresh in his mind, since he had just led a fact-finding mission to Puerto Rico to survey hurricane damage and to assess what the federal response had been.
He described what he saw as “a human catastrophe” occurring on the island of 3.5 million.
Menendez toured the island with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello to assess the damage caused when Hurricane Maria hit the island on Sept. 20.
Many of the residents were cut off from other parts of the island by heavy damage to the already shaky infrastructure.
“Bridges that are wiped out that are the only bridges that get to that community. Roads that are wiped out,” he told the crowds at the parade.
He said the devastation is enormous with no part of the island untouched, with so many dimension to the crisis, it is “heartbreaking.”
At a press conference held prior to going on the trip, Menendez urged President Donald Trump to increase federal response efforts to help alleviate the suffering on the island. He suggested that the federal government use the Army Corps of Engineers to help repair the infrastructure. While gasoline and other supplies had reached the island, the lack of roads and bridges would not allow aid workers to bring them to those parts of the island most in need, Menendez said.
Local authorities such as the police have been run ragged attempting to help, Menendez said, and they are exhausted, but still continue to work 24 hours a day.
But because of the disastrous conditions, only 30 percent of the police force were able to get to work.
Menendez is the highest ranking Latino in the U.S. Congress and has been a key figure in getting Congress to authorize hurricane relief to help to the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands impacted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. He sent a letter to U.S. airlines serving Puerto Rico requesting they take additional steps to ensure victims of Hurricane Maria are not stuck on the island due to unreasonable fees or exorbitant ticket prices to the mainland United States.
In a joint effort with other senators, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Menendez called on President Trump to use the authority given to him under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to more quickly respond to the disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The DPA was passed in 1950 to give the federal government the ability to quickly mobilize vast private sector resources through the Defense Department to respond to crises.
Specifically, they requested the Federal Government use the Maritime Administration to deliver supplies in high demand; use the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to airlift more resources to the island and evacuate citizens with emergency medical needs; and use “Priorities and Allocation authority” under the DPA to access private sector resources to alleviate the crisis and restore critical infrastructure.
“As fuel and water supplies dwindle precariously low, damaged infrastructure from roads and bridges to ports and electrical lines exacerbate the already formidable challenges, and threaten to leave the island without power for months to come,” the senators wrote. “This is a prediction that would never be acceptable on the mainland and it should not be acceptable for the American citizens living on Puerto Rico.
“The scale of this natural disaster creates serious national security implications and as such, demands the use of extraordinary measures,” the Menendez letter continued. “The federal government has the transportation and logistics infrastructure to help alleviate the immediate and overwhelming crisis currently facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While the full scope of the devastation is not yet known, one thing is for certain – with quick and decisive action granted through the authorities in the DPA, the potential devastation on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands may be mitigated.”
As thousands of displaced people find themselves homeless, Sens. Menendez and Booker also led a request for an appropriations bill that would help these American citizens rebuild and provide them the resources needed to restore the islands back to normality.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.