There are some 200 pallets filled with water bottles sitting in a warehouse in Philly waiting to go to Puerto Rico.
The water was collected through charity drives for Puerto Rico, where residents are living off rations of water and waiting hours in line for gas and diesel in the wake of hurricanes Maria and Irma, in post-disaster circumstances.
But just getting aid to the island is proving an almost insurmountable obstacle for many would-be donors.
“It’s just insane,” said Amaris Hernandez Padgett, president of the Philadelphia chapter for the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women and a member of Unidos Pa’ PR, a coalition of Latino activists and officials that came together after the hurricanes to coordinate charitable efforts. “We have tons of stuff, 200 pallets of water – not cases, pallets – and we can’t get it there.”
While mainland Puerto Ricans and their supporters have sought to help the island since it was ravaged by two hurricanes in a row, access to the island is still difficult. Even on the island, distribution of goods is proving complex.
“Materials are just sitting in San Juan, and they’re not being distributed throughout the island,” Padgett said. “They’re saying they need truck drivers. … There’s people on the island in remote parts who need food, who need water.”
To call on Washington to help allay the crisis in Puerto Rico, Unidos Pa’ PR will be calling together City Council members, the mayor, local clergy and numerous Latino organizations on Thursday at City Hall to call for federal recovery aid for the island’s 3.5 million inhabitants.
The city, Salvation Army, American Airlines and Office of Emergency Management recently coordinated sending a plane with 31,000 pounds of food, water and supplies to the island – but more is still urgently needed, Padgett said.
“There’s a lot of Puerto Rican people on the mainland who want to help out, but we really need the government to step in and lift some of these restrictions that are preventing us from helping the people,” she said. “They don’t have the resources. We have the generators here – we’re willing to ship them but we can’t.”
Currently, Unidos is advising all donors to go through El Concilio, Padgett said. They’re also in touch with fellow Puerto Ricans who are trying to reach loved ones on the island.
“There’s a family whose father just passed away over there, and they can’t get a flight,” she said. “His body is just sitting there, and they’re trying to fly the whole family so they can bury their father.”
To donate to Puerto Rican relief efforts, visit www.elconcilio.net/donate.