Delaware starts donation drive for Puerto Rico hurricane victims

DOVER — On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

At least 43 people on the island were killed by the Category 4 storm, and the governor of the U.S. territory last week estimated the damage at $90 billion. Nearly 90 percent of electricity customers lack power and about 36 percent of water customers still do not have water.

The aftermath has been described as a humanitarian crisis.

On Wednesday, Delaware officials announced a donation drive to help the 3.4 million people living on the Caribbean island. Delawareans can visit https://delaware.gov/relief/ for information on how to donate and volunteer.

“Our former Gov. Jack Markell used to like to refer to Delaware as a state of neighbors and I really just love that term because it describes so well for me the kind of state that we are, the kind of people that we are, and neighbors take care of one another,” Gov. John Carney said at a news conference.

Flanked by other state officials and Delawareans with Puerto Rican ancestry, some of whom wore shirts proclaiming in Spanish the value of unity, the governor urged residents of the First State to help their fellow Americans.

India Colon, who has family on Puerto Rico, spoke of visiting the island just six days after the storm and finding devastation and “zero relief efforts” everywhere.

“Delaware has always been a leading state in many humanitarian relief efforts,” she said with emotion in her voice.

“We have always set a precedent of excellence, and we have always raised the bar and set a mark. We are small but we are strong.”

Donations will be accepted at Delaware State Police headquarters and troops 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. until Wednesday. Individuals can also drop off supplies at the Port of Wilmington Monday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and noon until Oct. 21.

Needed goods include first-aid supplies, stomach and diarrhea medications, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, toiletries, feminine-hygiene products, dish soap, laundry detergent, garbage bags, work gloves, tarps, ropes, safety glasses and pet food.

The donation drive will not take clothing, shoes, toys, bottled water, food or cash, although monetary contributions can be made through a variety of charities.

The U.S. Virgin Islands were also impacted by the storm, although so far only one person is reported to have died because of the hurricane.

The Delaware National Guard has been “all in” to help Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as several U.S. states that were struck by hurricanes in August and September, Delaware National Guard Adjutant Gen. Carol Timmons said.

Currently, members of the Delaware National Guard are home doing maintenance on their aircraft in preparation for a relief mission in the Caribbean.

There are about 4,200 guardsmen and guardswomen deployed in Puerto Rico and 1,700 in the Virgin Islands, Gen. Timmons said.

While many nonprofits and government agencies are working to help Puerto Rico recover from the destruction of Hurricane Maria, the White House has been criticized for its response. President Donald Trump in particular has drawn a sharp reaction from many quarters for remarks and actions perceived by some as insensitive and uncaring.

The president said Puerto Rico has “thrown our budget a little out of whack” and on Twitter blasted the mayor of San Juan, the territory’s capital.

Nine days after the storm, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said that the federal government is “killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., alluded to the criticisms of the administration during Wednesday’s news conference.

“The federal response has been slow, has not been what it should have been,” he said. “It should not be a surprise that these are islands. It should not be a surprise that they have affected millions of American citizens.”

President Trump has said the federal response had been slowed because Puerto Rico, unlike the post-hurricane aid efforts for Houston, Texas, “is an island surrounded by water — big water, ocean water.”

Congress is expected to vote soon on legislation that would earmark $18.9 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In this time of disaster, Americans should unify for their compatriots, speakers said Wednesday.

“When you have 800,000 children in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, working with challenging logistics and not enough boots on the ground … it’s only human kindness that will prevail,” Latin American Community Center President Maria Matos said, promising Puerto Rico would never forget Delaware’s assistance.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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