NEW BRITAIN – Area residents are relieved as they received word that relatives on Puerto Rico made it through Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm ever recorded.
But now relief efforts for the U.S. Territory are intensifying in New Britain and throughout the state as the storm continues to roar through the Caribbean on its way to southern Florida and the southern East Coast.
About a million people were without power in Puerto Rico after Irma blasted the island, but there were no immediate reports of large-scale casualties, according to the Associated Press. New Britain state Rep. Robert Sanchez said his mother was happy that she heard from one of her sisters but she had not heard from the other sister by about 10 a.m. Thursday. “There is no electricity, and they likely won’t have electricity for weeks or months,” Sanchez said. “I heard three to four deaths, but that’s not confirmed. There’s more wind damage on the north of the island which is where the storm hit worse than anywhere else.”
Sanchez and the state’s General Assembly’s Latino caucus decided Wednesday to start fundraising and collecting supplies for Puerto Rico just as the storm was starting to buffet the island. They have regrouped their plan and are only accepting monetary donations at this point because they have no way of getting goods to the island with the storm still raging, Sanchez said. The group will be collecting cash and checks at Saturday’s Puerto Rican Festival on High Street in New Britain.
City Council member Willie Pabon also learned that his family is safe, but he’s concerned that his brother who requires dialysis will not be able to get treatment. “They made out pretty good, they just lost power, everything is still standing,” said Pabon who expects to donate to the relief effort.
People can text 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross effort to help victims of Hurricane Irma, said Stefanie Arcangelo, chief communications officer for the American Red Cross Connecticut Chapter. Arcangelo has been stationed in Texas for the past 15 days coordinating the effort to let victims of Hurricane Harvey know where they can find American Red Cross shelters, food and clean up items. She said the American Red Cross will have teams from around the country aiding the regions hit by Hurricane Irma. “It’s all hands on deck,” she said.
French, British and Dutch rescuers struggled to rush aid to a string of Caribbean islands Thursday after Hurricane Irma left at least six dead and thousands homeless as it traced a course that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida over the weekend, the Associated Press said.
More than half the island of Puerto Rico was without power, leaving more 900,000 in the dark and nearly 50,000 without water, the U.S. territory's emergency management agency said in the midst of the storm. Fourteen hospitals were using generators after losing power, and trees and light poles were strewn across roads.
Puerto Rico's public power company warned before the storm hit that some areas could be left without power from four to six months because its staff has been reduced and its infrastructure weakened by the island's financial crisis.
President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to remove debris and provide other aid.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at Category 4 or 5 as it passed just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, neared the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and skirted Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.
In Florida, people rushed to board up their homes and gas up their cars. That state will start feeling the effects of the storm Sunday morning, said WSFB-TV Chief Meteorologist Bruce DePrest. “It will either track up Florida or hug the east coast of Florida,” DePrest said. If the storm hugs the coast, models are showing it going out to sea when it reaches Cape Canaveral and then making landfall again at the Georgia and South Carolina border.
The storm is expected to maintain its Category 5 status as it hits Florida, he said. But Connecticut will likely only feel the remnants of the storm with periods of rain Wednesday or Thursday, DePrest said.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.