BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Alma Maya wiped away tears Wednesday, as she spoke of how she persuaded her elderly mother to leave her hurricane-ravaged home in Puerto Rico and make the journey to safety in Bridgeport.
"They feel like their abandoning their country,” the Bridgeport mayoral aide said of the older generation facing life without water, food and electricity on the island.
Maya was one of about 80 people who came to a meeting with U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal to share their stories and hear what the federal government’s response will be as the U.S. territory rebuilds after Hurricane Maria.
Connecticut has the largest percentage of Puerto Rican residents than any other state, Murphy said. About one-fifth of Bridgeport’s population is Puerto Rican.
“It’s right that we be on the forefront of the response,” said Murphy, who said he will tour the island soon.
Blumenthal, who recently returned from a trip there, said the good news is the people — many of whom have lost their homes — have maintained one thing.
“They have not lost hope,” he told the applauding crowd.
He said that’s a testament to the Puerto Rican spirit, given what they are facing. More than 85 percent of the island has no electricity and about half the population has no potable water, he and Murphy said.
Two-thirds of the roads are impassable, Blumenthal said.
FEMA is handing out 1 million meals a day, showing just how dire the need is.
“It was heartbreaking for me,” Blumenthal said, describing an “incredible vista of destruction, a tableau of pain.”
Descriptions of the current situation on the ground since the storm made landfall on Sept. 20 were in stark contrast to those coming out of the White House.
State Rep. Chris Rosario, who has about 100 aunts, uncles and cousins in the mountain town of Aibonito, said residents there are climbing a steep hill to get even one bar of cell service so they can reach family on the mainland. He didn’t hear from any of his family for a full seven days.
Both main roads to the larger city nearby are washed out, and residents have to get across a river to leave town. Until Monday, no relief efforts had reached the town known as “Little Switzerland” for its beauty.
Maya said she spoke to one mayor who said a relief truck did reach his town, but when they opened it, it was full of mayonnaise.
Milady Cruz-Fisher of Stratford said she has four aunts and uncles with Alzheimer’s disease there who are not getting the care they need. She worries the talented and skilled people who are traveling to the States for relief may decide to stay, leaving Puerto Rico lacking the human resources to rebuild.
Blumenthal and Murphy pledged to fight for a “real” relief plan and the funding to support sustainable solutions, such as solar energy and a plan for economic development and jobs.
The House is voting this week on a new round of relief funding, and Blumenthal on Thursday will call for the appointment of a Puerto Rico relief czar and a major overhaul of what he called the “failing” federal disaster response.
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