Puerto Ricans in Utah collect supplies for Hurricane Fiona relief efforts

Residents clean up mud brought by Hurricane Fiona to the Los Sotos neighborhood of Higuey, Dominican Republic on Tuesday. Puerto Ricans in Utah unite to support Puerto Rico after another disaster hits the island. (Ricardo Hernández, Associated Press)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Puerto Ricans in Utah are coming together to support Puerto Rico after yet another disaster hits the island.

Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico on Sunday, knocking out power and water to most of the island and leaving hundreds of people stranded amid rapidly rising floodwaters. The hurricane also left about 1 million people without running water in the Dominican Republic on Monday and made landfall in the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.

Fiona comes five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Much of the island has yet to recover from Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people and knocked out the power grid in 2017. The island also suffered a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in 2020 which damaged two of the largest power stations on the island.

“It’s truly heartbreaking to see the Puerto Rican people continue to be hit time and time again by another hurricane, another earthquake, another political government that doesn’t really take care of people the way they should,” Miriam said. Padilla, member of the Puerto Rico group in Utah. “In Puerto Rico, we always help each other. The community is one that lifts each other up – and that’s what we’re going to do again this time around.”

Puerto Rico in Utah, which Padilla and Liliana Rodríguez founded in 2019, collects supplies to send to Puerto Rico. Donations can be dropped off at a community bombazo hosted by the Bomba Marilé group (of which Rodríguez and Padilla are members) on September 25 from 3-7 p.m. at the University of Utah’s Black Cultural Center. Below are some examples of what is needed. A full list is available on the Puerto Rico Utah Facebook page.

  • First aid supplies and over-the-counter medications for inflammation, pain relief, joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, allergies and colds
  • Vitamin supplements and infant formula
  • Personal hygiene products
  • Nutritional support items, such as medicine coolers, glucose tablets, and protein bars
  • Emergency preparedness items like tents, solar powered chargers and radios, flashlights, water filtration tablets and tarps
  • School supplies

Puerto Rico in Utah is working with two organizations, Brigada Solidaria del Oeste and Catacumbas 7, to get supplies to individuals in Puerto Rico.

“We’re starting to work with these two people who we know work directly with people,” Rodríguez said in Spanish. “I’ve had personal contact with them and I know they’re moving supplies to people. It’s not like Hurricane Maria where the government received and gave nothing.”

Protests in Puerto Rico became widespread after a warehouse full of 2020 disaster supplies was discovered. Some of the supplies dated back to Hurricane Maria three years prior. Rodríguez, who was living in Puerto Rico during Maria, said she received no government assistance until six months after the hurricane.

Neighbors work to recover their belongings after flooding caused by Hurricane Fiona in the Los Sotos neighborhood of Higüey, Dominican Republic on Tuesday.  Puerto Ricans in Utah unite to support Puerto Rico after another disaster hits the island.
Neighbors work to recover their belongings after flooding caused by Hurricane Fiona in the Los Sotos neighborhood of Higüey, Dominican Republic on Tuesday. Puerto Ricans in Utah unite to support Puerto Rico after another disaster hits the island. (Photo: Ricardo Hernández, Associated Press)

“Don’t donate to the local Puerto Rican government because people don’t see it,” Padilla said. “We try to really focus on the organizations that have been around Hurricane Maria with the earthquakes that are now present and that we know are trustworthy and have really worked in the community and those are the ones that we recommend.”

Puerto Rico in Utah plans to wait until couriers are back up and running to send supplies. Puerto Rico in Utah organized a similar donation drive after the 2020 earthquake and worked with a Puerto Rican airline employee to secure donated cargo space to transport supplies to the island. Rodríguez and his family then flew to Puerto Rico and collected the items and distributed them to tent cities on the island.

Padilla and Rodríguez hope they can find something similar this time around. They have set up a GoFundMe* account to help defray costs associated with bringing items to Puerto Rico and to donate to organizations in Puerto Rico.

Rodríguez and Padilla say their families are physically fine despite the damage to their properties. However, the mental impact of hurricanes Maria and Fiona, as well as a magnitude 6.4 earthquake in 2020, are taking their toll.

“Mentally that’s what people are really hurting for because we don’t know how long the lights are going to be off, we don’t know how long the water is going to be off. And they have Maria’s PTSD knowing that they went six months (without electricity), some people a year, some people longer,” Padilla said. “It’s the uncertainty that really scares people.

Rodríguez added that with so many natural and other disasters happening around the world right now, it’s important to be ready to help others.

“Today it’s happening there, but at any time it could happen here,” Rodríguez said.


*KSL.com does not guarantee that money deposited in the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons designated as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit into the Account, you should consult your own advisers and proceed otherwise at your own risk.

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Sydnee Gonzalez is a multicultural reporter for KSL.com covering the diversity of Utah people and communities. Dressed Spanish. You can find Sydnee at @sydnee_gonzalez on Twitter.

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