After Avoiding Irma's Wrath, Puerto Ricans Have Stepped Up To Help Nearby Islands

"We have to do everything we can to help.”

When Hurricane Irma's path was predicted, Puerto Rico braced for the worst. But fate left the island in relatively good shape, and residents quickly sprung into action to help the surrounding U.S. territories.

Puerto Ricans didn't just donate water, supplies and clothing to the islands nearby. Boaters organized rescue crews, much like the Cajun Navy sprung into action during the Houston floods.

Cristina Morales, who owns a 54-foot boat that brought 46 people back from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, was one of those volunteers.

"We were very blessed here, and we have to do everything we can to help," she told The New York Times.

Despite springing into action, Puerto Rico was not unscathed. According to the United States Energy Department, more than 300,000 people on the island of 3.4 million were left without power. Several reports indicate Puerto Rico's power could remain out for months.  



Meanwhile, U.S. government officials have continued to evacuate people from surrounding islands to Puerto Rico. "1,200 mostly American citizens" were flown from Saint Martin and Saint Thomas to Puerto Rico's mainland, according to the The New York Times, while boat rescues have been largely driven by volunteers. 

One social media push has helped volunteers from Puerto Rico load up four shipping containers worth of supplies, which are set to be delivered to the island by the end of the week. Search and rescue teams from the New York Police and Fire Departments have been deployed to Puerto Rico as well

Hurricane Irma and Puerto Rico's efforts come at a sensitive time for the country. Earlier this summer, Puerto Rico was forced to file for bankruptcy as it reorganized its debt. In recent months a debate has been raging about whether the United States should officially adopt Puerto Rico — which is home to more U.S. citizens than 21 states — as its 51st state. As noted by The Nation, much of the storm coverage surrounding Irma implicitly suggested Puerto Rico was not the United States, despite it being a U.S. territory. 

And yet, Puerto Ricans didn't hesitate to rush to help the surrounding U.S. territories and even the British Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told CNBC that the island was quickly rebuilding, and finding optimism that many of the biggest tourist destinations — a huge source of income for the island — had avoided the worst of the storm. 

"Puerto Rico still has the wherewithal to be a tourist destination," he said. "Some of the regions in Puerto Rico have already been determined to be a disaster area, so we will work with our funding, of course, but with the help of FEMA to restore balance and to rebuild again in Puerto Rico."

Cover photo via Trong Nguyen i Shutterstock

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