LAWRENCE, MASS. (WHDH) – Volunteers in Massachusetts who rolled up their sleeves to help those affected during Hurricane Maria are watching closely as Puerto Rico begins to recover from Hurricane Fiona.
Local leaders on the island said they have not seen so much damage since Maria five years prior, after the area was hit with over 30 inches of rain, floods and blackouts that have had National Guard members performing rescues since Monday.
Fiona arrived nearly five years to the day Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, a storm that motivated volunteers across Massachusetts to help raise funds and deliver aid to the U.S. territory at the time. Some of those same volunteers can be found at the Lawrence Fire Department, where several members have family ties to Puerto Rico.
“Just seeing the devastation from that time, it’s still fresh in your mind,” said firefighter Manny Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was one of several department members who traveled to PR to help in the aftermath of Maria, after the Category 4 storm destroyed the island’s power grid, leaving most, including his own family, without electricity.
Gonzalez said his loved ones are once again without power or running water now, but added that this time is slightly different.
“One thing that was encouraging is that we were able to talk with them,” he told 7NEWS. “During Maria, there was no communication.”
As of Tuesday, at 4:48 p.m., at least 1,168,000 customers were without power, according to poweroutage.us.
Puerto Rico is still recovering from Maria a half-decade later, now dealing with rebuilt homes being wrecked again and newly-paved streets crumbling and giving way to water and mud.
“I’m hopeful that the administration, that the government, handles the situation a little bit better, and that they learn from what happened before,” Gonzalez added.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Reports of at least one death in Puerto Rico have surfaced since Fiona landed, though the figure may increase as the emergency responders continue their work.
William Pagan is another Lawrence Firefighter with family on the island weathering the storm. After Maria, he led four relief trips to bring supplies to Puerto Rico, mainly made up of donations from the Lawrence community that rallied behind them.
“We’ll wait and see what happens, you know?” Pagan said on Tuesday. “If we have to help out in any way, and we’re available, we’ll do it again.”
As of Tuesday, Lawrence Fire members told 7NEWS they are not currently collecting aid for the aftermath of Fiona or planning any trips. The team said they do not want to add any extra burden to relief efforts that are already underway, but will change course if the need arises.
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