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Puerto Ricans in Syracuse ready to help island after Hurricane Fiona

 The American flag flies at the top of a flag pole alongside the Puerto Rican flag in this undated photo.
U.S. House of Representatives
The American flag flies at the top of a flag pole alongside the Puerto Rican flag in this undated photo.

Central New Yorkers with family and friends in Puerto Rico are closely monitoring the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona. One Syracuse resident awaiting action is Syracuse Common Councilor Rita Paniagua, who has a brother working for the government on the island.

Paniagua said her brother tells her there is little communication with the hardest hit areas on the central and southwest sides. Paniagua said they are waiting for a full assessment of the need before relief efforts begin.

"This affects us in so many ways, feeling so helpless because there's actually nothing we can do," Paniagua said. "The first thing is to stay calm until we get better news on how we can help them. Once we do get that, we are going to go outreach everywhere, and everybody will know. So, we're hoping by next week, we're very informed in terms of the need."

She said the community is discussing what worked best after Hurricane Maria devastated the island five years ago.

"For instance, we can buy gift cards, let's say from a given vendor, and then if those are compatible in Puerto Rico with the same stores, then we can bring the gift card[s] and move the economy of the island by purchasing over there," Paniagua said.

Paniagua said shipping supplies to the island can be a logistical challenge because, in the past, they’ve gotten stuck in port with no way to get them to the areas in need.

"We rather people wait until we know, instead of starting to gather things that may not be of need and then it's complicated to ship them," Paniagua said. "We wanna make it effective, and we wanna make it right."

Paniagua said it's difficult for her to watch the news footage of people paddling canoes and kayaks to save residents from flooding. She said the receding waters are leaving piles of debris and unstable ground.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at