In the immediate wake of Hurricane Fiona, which battered Puerto Rico on Sunday and Monday and left at least two dead, most residents of the island are still without power, water service, or both.
The Category 3 storm dumped up to 32 inches of rain in some regions, leading to catastrophic flooding and mudslides that threaten to continue. Authorities have only begun to assess the damage. As of Tuesday afternoon, electricity is still out for 80% of the island’s nearly 1.5 million customers, and 55% of households have no running water, according to the Puerto Rico Emergency Portal System.
President Joe Biden declared a State of Emergency on Sunday, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to dispatch help and coordinate recovery efforts. National Guard Brig. Gen. Narciso Cruz told the AP the flooding from Fiona is unlike anything he has seen, and many are comparing the situation to Hurricane Maria, which officially made landfall five years ago Tuesday. The U.S. territory still has not fully rebuilt and recovered from that damage, and its power grid has remained weak since then.
By Tuesday, Fiona continued its path of destruction to the Dominican Republic, 40 miles west of Puerto Rico’s coast, and then to Turks and Caicos. And heavy rains are still forecast during the remainder of the week across the islands.
Puerto Rico’s power provider, LUMA energy, has begun restoring service to customers, but has said the repairs are going to take days. In the meantime, local emergency-response groups and support services on the ground are providing relief.
While individuals are discouraged from coming to the island on their own to volunteer in person, at least until the situation stabilizes, you can still help Puerto Ricans affected by the hurricane. Here’s how:
Where to donate money
Many local nonprofits and organizations have jumped to respond to Hurricane Fiona, providing food, shelter, and services. Comedores Sociales has operated community kitchens in Puerto Rico since 2013 through mutual aid. The nonprofit Techos Pa’ Mi Gente started reconstructing areas destroyed by storms after Hurricane Maria.
In addition, other regional and national organizations are soliciting donations for specific aid. The Hispanic Federation is collecting for its fund to help people on the island. Project HOPE is accepting money to fund teams on the ground to provide medical assistance, and Direct Relief currently has a fund to provide Puerto Rico with mobile health facilities, emergency medicine, backup power, and more.
Activists encourage directing funding to groups that are on the ground in Puerto Rico and can utilize donations immediately, rather than to large nonprofits or FEMA. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican officials grew disillusioned with the slow recovery response from FEMA; Reuters reports that the agency has only spent roughly $20 billion of the $65 billion allocated to Puerto Rico after Maria.
Read more: What Do Hurricane Categories Actually Mean?
Where to donate supplies
For people already in Puerto Rico who are in a position to help others, there are several local groups collecting supplies and distributing them to people in need.
For example, Fundación Mochileando 100×35, a nonprofit fighting poverty on the island, is collecting supplies such as canned foods, water, diapers, and pet food in San Juan and delivering them throughout central and southern Puerto Rico. Another mutual aid group, Brigada Solidaria del Oeste, has specifically requested water purification tablets, solar lamps, water filters, first-aid kits, non-perishable foods, and other essentials. They have set up a collection center in the San Germán neighborhood.
The women-run team at Taller Salud in Puerto Rico is soliciting physical donations of certain toiletries, shelf-stable foods, solar lanterns, and more for local distribution. (Here are further details about their requests.) They are also accepting donations through their website.
What else can you do to help?
Those interested in traveling to Puerto Rico and volunteering can reach out to the Puerto Rico Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a network of relief groups that pairs volunteers with local members. VOAD notes that while emergency situations may inspire people to want to go there and help, volunteers should not show up without prior clearance.
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