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Local, federal aid to reach Puerto Rico in coming days

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

As federal aid finally begins making its way to Puerto Rico more than a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, local relatives of hurricane victims are trying to collect and send some of the basic necessities of life to their loved ones.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, knocking out power for the U.S. territory's nearly 3.5 million residents and leaving about 1.5 million without access to clean drinking water.

National Guard Soldiers arrive at Barrio Obrero in Santurce to distribute water and food among those affected by the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. Gov. Ricardo Rossello said "This is a major disaster." "We've had extensive damage. This is going to take some time." (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

To help relatives and communities back in Puerto Rico, the York Spanish American Center will hold a collection drive from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at its location at 225 E. Princess St.

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Volunteers will be collecting dozens of items, including canned food, bottled water and toiletries, for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Items collected during the drive will also be sent to help victims of the Sept. 19 earthquake that killed more than 340 people in central Mexico, said Oziel Bones, who has been volunteering with the collection drive.

Organizers are looking for people to donate nonperishable food items, baby food, clothing for men, women and children, drawstring backpacks, flashlights, batteries, pet food and a host of toiletries, including hand sanitizer, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste — basic necessities that are commonly forgotten during emergency relief efforts, event organizer Jose Colon-Bones said.

“When you have an emergency, you don’t run to your bathroom” to salvage items, Colon-Bones said. “You run.”

The items collected during the drive Saturday, Sept. 30, will likely be on their way to Florida ports within a few days, Colon-Bones said. 

With millions struggling in the aftermath of the hurricane and recovery efforts expected to take up to a year to complete, Bones promised ongoing efforts to send vital items to Puerto Rico.

“The goal is to get as much stuff as possible. We truly are dealing with a real-life humanitarian crisis of epic proportions for U.S. citizens,” Bones said. “We will do whatever it takes for as long as we have to.”

On Thursday, Sept. 28, President Donald Trump waived federal restrictions on foreign ships delivering cargo to Puerto Rico, while House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief account will get a $6.7 billion boost by the end of the week. 

Addressing questions about the Trump administration's delayed response in lifting the Jones Act and allowing foreign ships to bring materials to the island, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said relief efforts have been hampered by damaged ports and airports in Puerto Rico.

"The question is that last mile," Long told CNN, speaking of the difficulty of reaching those in remote areas and those stranded by damaged infrastructure.