NEW BRITAIN – As Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean ever recorded, bore down on Puerto Rico Wednesday evening, the president of the local Latino Coalition was rallying area churches and coordinating the effort on how to get supplies to the U. S. territory.
“I’m in contact with people in Puerto Rico, people are calling and we’re making sure they are getting connected with churches and supplies,” said Carmelo Rodriguez, the president of the New Britain Latino Coalition as he was loading a truck in Groton with water, diapers and clothes for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and those in Puerto Rico being impacted by Irma. “We have hundreds of churches in Connecticut and we are getting supplies. We are trusting that God will move the storm out to sea but we are preparing for the worst.”
The Category 5 Hurricane roared toward Puerto Rico Wednesday mid-day after passing through Barbuda and other Caribbean islands late Tuesday, causing flooding, power outages, downed trees and widespread damage, the Associated Press reported.
By early Wednesday afternoon the center of the storm was 20 miles east-southeast of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and 90 miles east of San Juan, Puerto Rico and heading west-northwest at 16 mph, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma's magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. The storm is being fueled by water in the Atlantic Ocean that was 1.8 degrees warmer than normal, the AP said. The 79 degree water that hurricanes need went about 250 feet deep, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.
“The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force.”
Puerto Rico's public power company has cut back on staff and maintenance amid a deep economic crisis and the agency's director warned that some areas could be without power from four to six months because the infrastructure has already deteriorated so badly. Power outages were reported in some neighborhoods well ahead of the storm.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma's winds would fluctuate, but the storm would likely remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it moved past Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas.
While parts of Texas were still trying to recover from Hurricane Harvey’s destruction, those living in South Florida were on high alert Wednesday. Evacuations began in the Keys and more people were expected to be called to evacuate on the coast by Thursday.
As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, WFSB-TV Meteorologist Scot Haney said the models appeared to show the hurricane moving toward south Florida and weakening as it comes inland or up the coast. But Haney cautioned, he was looking at the models for the storm track at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The track it actually takes in hours following could be a whole different story, he said. At this point, it’s looking like Connecticut won’t be severely impacted by the storm, he said.
But Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy cautioned residents to be prepared since hurricane season can last until Halloween and beyond. State officials are promoting the CTPrepares mobile app for smart phones and tablets. The free app that can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes store and the Google Play store provides residents with information and alerts during emergencies.
Residents should also have a basic emergency supply kit with a three-day supply of non-perishable food, pet food and litter, enough medication and diapers for a prolonged period, a whistle to call for help, local maps, cell phone chargers, batteries and flashlights, a first aid kit and a gallon of water per person for three days.
The state General Assembly’s 13 Hispanic representatives met Wednesday and decided to start a fundraising and item raising campaign for Puerto Rico that will unfold at festivals throughout the state, said New Britain State Representative Robert Sanchez who has family on the island.
“We’re working on the logistics of how to get the money and supplies to the best possible place,” Sanchez said. “We want 100 percent of the money to go to the community.”
The group will start collecting money at the Puerto Rican Festival on High Street on Saturday, he said. “Then we’ll do it in each of the other cities in a similar way.”
New Britain City Council member Willie Pabon will be riding out the storm in Connecticut but keeping a close eye on Puerto Rico where he has a home and family. “I’m going to do whatever I can to help,” said Pabon who has been on the phone with his brothers on the island daily as the storm approached. “I have a cement home so there is no boarding up the windows. What happens, happens. But if they get some water and winds 145 to 175 miles per hour, there’s going to be devastation.”
With Associated Press reports.