Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito visited an emergency management warehouse in East Williamsburg last Thursday to announce that the city will deploy 53 additional people to help with the relief efforts.
To date, New York City has already sent 158 city employees from various city agencies for assistance.
Thirty-one workers from the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) will help clean up debris, while 22 employees from the Department of Buildings (DOB) and Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will help inspect buildings in Puerto Rico.
“We have people who are helping in every way to help Puerto Rico get back on its feet,” de Blasio said. “Our personnel down there have been outstanding.”
In addition, every police precinct, 24 firehouses and EMS stations will be collecting donations through October 31 for hurricane relief. Specifically, the city is asking for diapers, baby food, batteries, first aid supplies and feminine hygiene products.
The city is not collecting bottled water, which is being handled through other means, according to de Blasio.
Donations will be accepted from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at these sites.
According to the city, 265 pallets of donated items have already been collected and are currently being shipped off to the island. Donations include 12,800 cases of diapers, 23,800 cases of feminine hygiene products, 1,200 first aid kits, 3,600 cases of baby food and 8,800 packs of batteries.
However, the mayor stressed that more donations are needed.
“I want to ask you to keep giving because the need is so great,” he said. “Everyone, please, do what you can, every little bit helps.”
The city is also collecting monetary donations through the Mayor’s Fund, which will support organizations working on the ground.
“Just extraordinary generosity we’re seeing from the people of New York City, and it keeps growing and growing,” de Blasio said. “New Yorkers understand this is not a problem that’s going to be solved in a few weeks or a few months. We have to be with Puerto Rico for the long haul.”
City officials reviewed some of the on-the-ground assistance their teams have already provided on the island. Deputy Chief Joseph Jardin of the FDNY, who led search-and-rescue teams, said they went to work the day after Hurricane Maria hit.
Coordinating with both San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, the New York City task forces determined that there was a “significant and acute need for humanitarian aid.”
“Due to a bridge collapse and mud slide, there were numerous communities that were isolated from help,” Jardin said. “They were able to get a rope across a river and establish a ferry line to get commodities to those folks, as well as transport folks in need of medical assistance.”
For example, the support teams helped get a few health care facilities up and running on generators.
“I can attest to the fact that there is a significant need for assistance,” he said. “The island took an incredible hit with Hurricane Maria.”
Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Commissioner Joseph Esposito said after search-and-rescue operations went well, the team transitioned into wellness checks and helped deliver supplies, food, water and medical items to isolated areas.
“They were decimated, their emergency operation centers were destroyed,” Esposito said. “People couldn’t get to work, so we really helped them a lot.
“We continue to assist, working everyday closely with the mayor and governor to facilitate additional requests for resources,” he added. “They’re hard at work, and they’ll be there as long as they have to.”
Mark-Viverito, a native of Puerto Rico, has already visited the island to see the damage firsthand. She reminded New Yorkers that 95 percent of the population still doesn’t have electricity, and that the medical infrastructure is “severely debilitated.”
“As more time passes, some people may have the sense that things are getting better, but they are still not getting better,” she said. “With the way it’s operating right now, it’s not enough.”
She cast blame largely on President Donald Trump and his administration’s insufficient response, which she called “an incredible disservice” to Puerto Rico. She asked why the island didn’t merit the attention that other relief efforts received.
“We need the support and the resources from the U.S. government, and they’re still woefully lacking,” Mark-Viverito said. “We need to continue to put the pressure on Trump, who obviously has a very limited attention span and does not want to focus on the severity of the catastrophe in Puerto Rico.”
“It’s a reality,” she added, announcing that she’s going back down to the island to follow up on her initial trip. “People’s lives can be at stake.”
The mayor also criticized Trump for his words and actions. De Blasio said Trump suggested “there was something wrong with the Puerto Rican people” after the president tweeted that they “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
“The Puerto Rican people are a hard-working people, a resilient people. They have been through a lot, and they keep coming back,” de Blasio said. “There’s nothing wrong with the Puerto Rican people. The only thing that’s wrong is the United States response to this crisis, which has been insufficient.
“We’ve got to keep pushing the federal government to do more,” the mayor added. “In the meantime, we will keep doing more, doing everything we can to help Puerto Rico.”