Hurrican Fiona landfalls in Puerto Rico

How to help victims of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico

A hurricane that hit Puerto Rico on Sunday has left at least one person dead and millions of the island’s residents without power or running water.

Hurricane Fiona, this season’s sixth named storm, is only the third to transform from a tropical storm into a hurricane since the Atlantic hurricane season started in June.

The Category 1 hurricane brought sustained winds topping 85 mph and torrential rainfalls, with some regions receiving up to 25 inches, triggering floods and mudslides. It also caused an islandwide blackout.

More than 1.3 million customers were still without power as of midday Monday.

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said power had been restored to more than 100,000 users as of Monday afternoon and estimated the outage should not last longer than a few days.

Fiona made landfall in the U.S. territory two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rican officials say the island’s power grid and infrastructure are still recovering from the devastation caused by Maria, which knocked out power for almost a year in some places and created the largest blackout in U.S. history.

President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Sunday, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supply disaster relief services to those affected by the most recent hurricane.

Here are some ways to help.

Needs on the ground now

Local nonprofits and grassroots organizations are mobilizing as quickly as possible and calling for additional aid to help meet the urgent needs of Puerto Ricans.

“This is very different from Maria. A major problem here is the rain,” said David Guadalupe, the president of Puerto Rico National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). “We need everyone’s support as a way to remember the past five years.”

Puerto Rico VOAD established 25 long-term recovery groups scattered across the island to streamline regional relief efforts in response to Maria’s destruction. Guadalupe encourages those wishing to contribute to visit their website or directly donate to their members, who are part of a network of more than 2,600 organizations aiding Fiona victims.

The Hispanic Federation, a Washington-based nonprofit, is asking for financial support after already sending volunteers to coordinate their network of 100 community partners.

International Medical Corps’ has teams in Puerto Rico that are responding to Hurricane Fiona. They are working alongside local authorities and accepting donations to deliver critical care to victims.

Direct Relief is the largest non-governmental organization donor of medical supplies to health care providers in Puerto Rico, and has prioritized supporting community health centers impacted by Maria and now Fiona.

“The government and the power company worked hard to reestablish power in critical areas, such as the medical center, where we call Centro Medico in Puerto Rico,” Dr. Michelle Carlo, medical adviser for Direct Relief of Puerto Rico, told PBS NewsHour, “which is the only tertiary hospital in the island.”

Diaspora for Puerto Rico, a New York City-based nonprofit, has launched a site seeking donations to fund local volunteers and community-led organizations on the ground amid the growing disaster response since an estimated 5.8 million Puerto Ricans live off the island.

Myriam Lorenzo, president of Stronger than Maria, a nonprofit created after the 2017 hurricane, has been focused on bridging the gap between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland.

She remembers volunteers flooding from stateside to support their efforts after Maria passed through. Lorenzo’s team has reconstructed 629 homes in nearly five years, but building materials are expensive to purchase on the island. Her organization is calling for donations through PayPal to help Puerto Ricans face the effects of yet another hurricane.

Needs range from food and drinkable water to tarps for covering collapsed roofs and even new mattresses, since children are sleeping in the cold mud.

Donations weren’t pouring into Puerto Rico at that time, Lorenzo said, explaining that they were mostly funding their operations by themselves. It led to the creation of Somos Puerto Rico, a group of local artisans selling handmade artwork, apparel, crafts and furniture, and giving a quarter of their earnings to charities, including Stronger than Maria.

“What we would want to do is also stimulate the economy of Puerto Rico,” Lorenzo said, “making people outside of the island know that we have a very talented group of artisans that do beautiful work.

She said this service would raise monies that can pay local artisans while providing resources to back ongoing disaster-related relief efforts, including Fiona.

“We started from the ground up,” Lorenzo said. “I think this is the way that we’re going to do it again.”

How to avoid charity scams

  • Determine whether the organization, nonprofit or group has a proven track record of delivering aid to those in need.
  • Identify local initiatives and efforts that are based within the areas most affected by the natural disaster.
  • Beware of phone calls and emails soliciting donations.
  • Avoid unfamiliar agencies and websites. There is a history of scammers creating websites that look like donation pages after a major tragedy, but in reality were scams.