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Local chambers gathering brings attention to Puerto Rico relief

October 11, 2017

Last Wednesday night, the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of West Palm Beach met to celebrate the Latino community of Palm Beach County. Honorary guests included Mayor of Greenacres Joel Flores and the President of the Chamber Juan Pagan.


The night celebrated successful local businesses and excelling Hispanic students; however, discussion revolved more heavily around recent tragic events in Puerto Rico.


Since hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island, there has been what seems like an underwhelming flow of aid to Puerto Rico.


Kimberly Miller, lead weather reporter at the Palm Beach Post, shared on Facebook what she saw during a trip to the island:


“I went to Puerto Rico for what was supposed to be a 24-hour in-and-out story. We were there five days. The destruction is incredible, and on the south side of the island, the aid is sparse. In this photo, four pallets of water were delivered to the community Pueblita in Juana Diaz. There is no running water. Each family got 24 bottles. In five days, we saw only one other reporter in the south. There is no internet, no cell service - people are completely cut off. Water is scarce. Cash is the only way to buy anything, but bank lines can last 7 hours. I wrote two stories, but then the Las Vegas massacre happened. Will Puerto Rico be forgotten? The people in the south are getting desperate.“


As the Chamber of Commerce gathering took place, a tone of sadness fell on the room. President Juan Pagan opened the event by drawing attention to the tragic devastation of Puerto Rico.


Mayor Flores described his efforts to gather aid for the struggling island. Teaming up with the Chamber of Commerce, Flores and Pagan launched a supply and food drive for Puerto Rico.


“I called Juan, and the next day we had a gym and started taking in supplies,” Flores said.


“We had over 300 volunteers who volunteered their time, their hard work. And this is with social media, just us asking family members and spreading the word - over 300 volunteers. 500,000 pounds of goods left Greenacres, and some of it has already made it over there,” Flores said.


After the event, Flores gave The Beacon details of his efforts to aid Puerto Rico. Flores traveled to Puerto Rico that Monday (Oct. 2) to personally deliver some supplies himself, and the damage he witnessed was devastating.  


“The hardest part is not collecting; the hardest part is transporting it and getting it to Puerto Rico. I was in Puerto Rico on Monday . . .  I went on delegation down there,” Flores said.


“Some of the houses are completely destroyed. One gentleman’s house is tilted sideways off its foundation, and he is literally living underneath that foundation on a couch. And he won’t leave,” Flores said. “I was there with the mayor of Ponce, a southern city, and we tried for three days in a row but he won’t leave.”


Flores is originally from Puerto Rico; and his family was there when the hurricanes struck.


“Initially, when I first launched this event, I hadn’t heard from my family for 24 hours. Even after the drive it took about four days until I heard from them,” Flores said.


The aftermath of the hurricanes is disastrous, as schools are still closed and cell service is still down.


“There are power cords, that you normally see along the roads and that sit thirty feet high, nine out of ten of those are just laying in the roads. And what happens is, once there’s no power, systems can’t run. If you can’t provide services to people, the economy stalls,” Flores said. “Imagine now, or after six months, what’s going to happen there.”


Puerto Ricans are either trying to leave the island as soon as they can, or are desperate for any supplies they can find. On Tuesday, Royal Caribbean brought a cruise liner to the island and transported 3,300 Puerto Ricans from the island to mainland United States.


In fact, other cruise lines are sacrificing their ships to aid Puerto Rico. Following Hurricane Irma, Carnival deployed 11 ships to deliver supplies to Caribbean islands.


“My goal, and these guys [Chamber of Commerce] that are helping me make it happen, is to focus on those people that are going to get here, and getting those essential items like generators to those people,” Flores said.




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