Boston plots aid for Puerto Rico

Local Puerto Rican leaders are calling for a coordinated effort to get donations of money and supplies from across the state to cities and remote parts of the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory.

“This is a crisis of apocalyptic proportions,” Otoniel Figueroa-Duran, commercial division director of 32BJ Service Employees International Union District 615, said yesterday at a roundtable held by U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey on relief efforts nearly two weeks after Category 4 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. “The federal response has been an embarrassment. People are dying.”

Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, a not-for-profit advocacy group, wept as she recalled waiting for days before she finally got word that her family was alive.

“I urge you to please do something for Puerto Rico now,” Vega said. “I don’t even know when the last time was that my sister had water.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said officials hope to have a few locations in the coming days in Boston and across Massachusetts — home to the nation’s fifth-largest Puerto Rican population — where people can bring all of the items that have been donated. State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Boston) is working to see how to get those supplies from the airport to cities and rural towns on the island, the mayor said.

The federal government has not granted Boston’s request to also send 15 police officers to Puerto Rico to assist with relief efforts, Walsh said, but the city plans to appeal and hopes to send firefighters, as well.

Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU District 615, said there is no way that Puerto Ricans will be able to rebuild if they are forced to repay the more than $70 billion the island owes because of a decadelong recession.

“They are Americans,” Markey said. “They deserve our help. The president has spent too much time insulting NFL players and not enough time helping the Americans who live on Puerto Rico to get help which they need for their families.”

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