NATURAL DISASTER

Residents gathered at a rally in downtown Hartford Wednesday to call attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. 

A sign outside Enlace de Familia in Holyoke, Mass. on Thursday, September 28, 2017.
Jill Kaufman / NEPR

An unknown number of Puerto Rican families may be heading toward the mainland U.S. in the coming weeks in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. They'll be in need of jobs, housing and health care, and western Massachusetts is getting ready.

Over a San Juan freeway overpass, near the low-income Playita community, there's a sign that reads, "SOS Playita Needs Water and Food."

It was a cry for help put up by residents who say they waited more than a week after the storm without receiving any outside aid.

There was a feeling, says 21-year-old Edison Rodriguez, that his community was "running out of time. That you can only have so much water, so much food [between] each other. That's why they put out those signs outside."

Dr. Robert Fuller visited five primary clinics in Puerto Rico Wednesday -- gong clockwise around the island from San Juan to Arroyo and then north to Caguas.  

Boston Public School officials say they are expecting many young Puerto Ricans to arrive in the district in the wake of Hurricane Maria. On Thursday, the district and its partners got together to anticipate the needs of those students and their families, and brainstorm how they could meet them.

Normally, Sonia Gomez-Banrey runs an early-education program for Boston Public Schools. But today, she’s thinking about the destruction in Puerto Rico.

One week after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, the U.S. Defense Department said 80 percent of the island’s electricity lines are damaged and nearly half its residents are without drinking water.

Julio Alicea's 8-month-old granddaughter Aubrey came down with severe respiratory problems a day after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico. "We are very lucky," Alicea says. "The hospital is open and we live nearby." Aubrey's cough turned intense, and when she started vomiting, Alicea says, he rushed her to the hospital at 4 a.m.

She didn't have any respiratory issues before the hurricane, Alicea says, sitting on a blue bench outside San Jorge Children's Hospital in San Juan. His 3-year-old granddaughter Angelica is keeping him company.

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it has temporarily waived a U.S. shipping restriction for Puerto Rico known as the Jones Act.

Under the law, only U.S.-flagged ships are allowed to move goods between any U.S. ports. Now foreign-flagged vessels also will be able to move shipments from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico and between ports there. The move is intended to boost the delivery of much-needed relief supplies after Hurricane Maria battered the U.S. territory last week.

The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration thanked President Trump in a tweet:

As Puerto Rico begins a slow recovery from Hurricane Maria's destruction, many Puerto Ricans in Connecticut are struggling to find ways to help  family members in need of food and water.

Seventy-eight-year-old Alonso Mercado and his wife emerged from the gates at Logan Airport on Wednesday evening to see their children and grandchildren. They came from Puerto Rico to take refuge with family in the United States.

Being in the Boston, Mercado says, is like paradise.

“Like in heaven,” he says.

Mercado says his home is ruined, and he plans to stay on the mainland until Puerto Rico returns to normal.

“We didn’t have no light and no water,” Mercado says. “No electricity in the house, not in the house, in the whole Puerto Rico.”

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