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Islands throughout the Caribbean communities are beginning a long road to recovery from several major hurricanes that have ravaged the Atlantic. But Puerto Rico in particular is facing what local officials have described as a full-blown humanitarian crisis, with devastation they call “apocalyptic.”
Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster the island has seen in nearly a century. Sixteen people have died as a result of the storm, according to the Associated Press, a number local officials expect to rise. The island has virtually no running water or electricity; around 80 percent of the island’s crops have been destroyed. Scores of Puerto Ricans are gathering around what’s left of the island’s cell towers, desperate for contact with loved ones.
Nearly all of the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million residents need assistance recovering from the storm. Here’s how you can help.
Cash. Most organizations are asking for cash, rather than supplies, so they can route help to where it’s needed most more quickly. Here are some of the largest groups with campaigns underway:
- United for Puerto Rico (spearheaded by the First Lady of Puerto Rico)
- Center for Popular Democracy
- Hispanic Federation’s “Unidos” page
- International Medical Corps
- Former U.S. presidents have expanded their One America Appeal to include recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
- Catholic Relief Services
- Direct Relief
- Save the Children, which focuses specifically on the needs of families and their children.
- Global Giving has a $2 million goal for victims of Hurricane Maria
GoFundMe has also created a hub that includes all campaigns for Hurricane Maria. You can also find campaigns for individual families seeking help for loved ones.
Supplies. The government of Puerto Rico has also launched a guide that details how individuals or companies can donate emergency and construction supplies (from bottled water, hand sanitizer and formula to extension cords, tarp and safety glasses). The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) is coordinating many of these donations here (and corporate giving here).
Volunteers. Once infrastructure is stable, the island will also need volunteers. VOAD is a good place to start. It can help match you with organizations with efforts already underway.
Spread the word. Part of the problem is that much of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean isn’t able to ask for help, due to loss of power and infrastructure.
Facebook has a safety check page for victims and their families to check in with each other, as does Google Docs’ person finder. If you or loved one has access to any kind of cell or internet service, the American Red Cross also has an Emergency! App for saftey check-ins and updates. Univision launched an interactive page where you can search for updates on individual municipalities. Officials in Puerto Rico are asking people to report U.S. citizens who need emergency assistance to the State Department through its Task Force Alert program. Go to http://tfa.state.gov and select “2017 Storm Maria.”
Finding reliable ways to give, especially during times when multiple disasters intersect like they did this month, can be overwhelming. This list is a good place to start, but as always, do your own research to make sure your aid dollars go as far as they possibly can in the right direction. Visit Charity Navigator if you aren’t sure whether an organization is trustworthy.