Hurricane Fiona packed a wallop on her way through Puerto Rico last week, leaving most of its 3.2 million residents without running water and electricity, and many without a roof over their heads.
It’s another blow to the Caribbean island that is still recovering from the havoc Hurricane Maria wreaked five years ago, when the Category 4 cyclone killed an estimated 3,000 people and caused upward of $100 billion in damages.
Although the hurricane that slammed into Puerto Rico’s southern coast Sept. 18 was a less brutal Category 1 storm, it still caused widespread flooding, washed out bridges and roads, triggered landslides, and prompted government declarations of disaster.
“We’re looking at a few months of this,” said Puerto Rican Civic Club Inc. of San Jose President Maria Acevedo of the 1 million residents who still didn’t have electricity on Friday and the several hundred thousand without access to clean water. “This is massive destruction.”
Her organization — the only nonprofit among the Bay Area’s Puerto Rican clubs — has a long list of batteries, solar-powered portable generators, and solar cell phone chargers on the Amazon wish list posted on its website for would-be benefactors.
“We have boots on the ground already,” Acevedo added, noting that a former president of the club is in Puerto Rico visiting homes, identifying needs and ensuring that donations end up in the right hands.
Then again, her organization knows the drill all too well.
Since Hurricane Maria laid waste to Puerto Rico in 2017, the focus of Puerto Rican Civic Club has shifted, Acevedo said.
The club was established in 1951 to raise funds for college scholarships, but over the past five years its members have been visiting Puerto Rico and working with contacts there to equip residents with waterproof solar lanterns, generators, and water filters.
“We’ve been prepared (for Hurricane Fiona),” Acevedo said.
Puerto Rican Civic Club Inc. of San Jose has collected $4,300 for Hurricane Fiona’s victims so far and spent that money on emergency equipment just as quickly as it came in, Acevedo said, adding that the last of the funds went toward a generator on Friday.
She’s appealed to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for additional financial aid and says she plans to jump on a plane to join the efforts in Puerto Rico if the agency agrees to help.
For Acevedo, the overseas aid is personal: All her aunts, uncles, and cousins are in Puerto Rico, and they now must manually pump water from their backyard tanks because the island’s electrical grid is all but non-existent.
Similarly, although most of her relatives have gas-powered generators, gasoline distribution systems have been hobbled since Fiona struck.
Another Bay Area organization with long-standing ties to Puerto Rico that’s also soliciting donations is Club Puertorriqueño de San Francisco.
Touting itself as the oldest Latin American organization in the United States, the social club is asking the public to open its mobile payment apps and checkbooks so it can focus on meeting the needs of children and the elderly. School supplies, solar-powered lanterns, personal hygiene items, bed linens, first-aid kits, and tarpaulins to cover damaged roofs are on the list, said President IrmaIris Vargas.
The club has raised about $2,000 to date, and it plans to hold a fundraiser next month.
Vargas, too, has family members in Puerto Rico who are struggling in the wake of the hurricane; two aunts in their 90s who live alone don’t have the generators they need to refrigerate food and cope with the hot temperatures.
“Our community is hurting, and they need our help,” Vargas said, adding that social media coverage of the devastation is a reminder that Hurricane Fiona left her mark on a region populated by Americans.
“Hey, we’re out there,” she said. “It’s happening on a U.S. territory in the Caribbean.”
How to help
Puerto Rican Civic Club Inc. of San Jose is accepting only certain non-monetary donations: Solar-powered lanterns, solar chargers for cell phones, and gift cards to Walmart and Walgreens.
People may drop off these items in Gilroy or San Jose by appointment only. Call 408-230-5340.
Donations bought on Amazon should be shipped to:
Ramey Post Office, c/o Maria Acevedo
P.O. Box 250152
Aguadilla, Puerto Rico 00604
Club Puertorriqueña de San Francisco Inc.
For instructions on how to donate via Zelle, Venmo, PayPal or by check, go to https://www.clubpuertorriquenosf.com/.
The club also will hold a fundraiser 2 to 8 p.m. Oct. 23 on its premises at 3249 Mission Street, San Francisco. Admission is by donation. The event will feature live salsa music and Puerto Rican cuisine will be sold. All proceeds will go to the hurricane victims.