How to help Puerto Rico in wake of Hurricane Maria

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico is facing the unprecedented task of rebuilding after Hurricane Maria.

A search-and-rescue crew member looks at flooded area from a truck as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo, on Sept. 20, 2017.
(RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. territory — home to some 3.4 million people — is completely without power, and may not get it back for 4 to 6 months.  At least one death has been reported, but because communications are down the total casualty count is not known, Gov. Ricardo Rossello tells CNN. And although the storm made landfall Wednesday, rain and flooding continued more than a day later.

Recovery could cost $10 billion, NYC Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez said at an afternoon news conference, noting damage from Hurricane Irma — which never made landfall, but still damaged the island two weeks ago — is estimated to be $1 billion.

“This is an unprecedented event that requires a monumental response," Velázquez said.

Velázquez was born in Yabucoa, where the then-Category 4 storm first made landfall. She has not yet been able to contact loved ones on the island.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spoke alongside the congresswoman and Mayor Bill de Blasio about relief efforts Thursday.

"To say this is a trying time is an understatement. For all of us standing here, it is deeply personal," Mark-Viverito said. "The reality is that the Puerto Rico that we knew two days ago is not the Puerto Rico that we see today. This is a hurricane which was the most catastrophic in the history of the island. It is one that consumed the whole island; not one area of the island was saved."

Mark-Viverito, born in the capital San Juan, has managed to contact her mother, but their communication was brief, the speaker said.

Many have been unable to contact loved ones because the power is out, and generators can only help so much, Mark-Viverito said.

There are more than 700,000 New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent, according to de Blasio.

"There is a lot of fear and pain right now," de Blasio said. "My message to all Puerto Ricans is, 'New York City stands with you, and we will be there to help.'"

Nine NYPD and FDNY personnel are already on the ground in Puerto Rico, because they arrived to help after Hurricane Irma and stayed in anticipation of Maria. Another 27 NYC first responders are at New York's Stewart International Airport, ready to deploy "the minute" FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gets them landing capacity on the island. Additionally, an NYC Emergency Management Department team is ready to go.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a plane full of other responders left for Puerto Rico Friday morning.

City employees, beginning Thursday, can donate money from their paychecks. They are also being asked to give their time and energy to travel to Puerto Rico and help, de Blasio said. The city is looking for free airfare and accommodations, and will be flexible with the time those employees need to take off  to "go and serve."

Non-city employees who want to help are being asked to donate money and specific items.

Money can be donated to the Mayor's Fund at nyc.gov/fund and HispanicFederation.org/donate.

You can also text "unidos" to 41444. Message and data rates may apply.

Physical items can also be donated. The city is requesting diapers, baby food, feminine hygiene products, batteries and first-aid supplies.

New Yorkers who want to physically travel to Puerto Rico to help will likely be able to do so in the future, but currently travel methods have not been established, de Blasio said.

Anyone wishing to check on someone in Puerto Rico is asked to call 202-778-0710. The line may be busy due to the volume of calls coming in, but officials urge callers to keep trying.

Below, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez discuss how NYC plans to help those in Puerto Rico: