It’s been more than two weeks since Hurricane Fiona ravaged Puerto Rico, causing destruction to the island which has seen natural disasters up close more than once in recent times.

Just like after Hurricane Maria, the New York City Department of Emergency Management (OEM) has boots on the ground in Puerto Rico. The crews from the New York region have been working side-by-side with local first responders.

Bienvenido Perez Jr., who works with the NYC Department of Design and Construction, has been helping to assess the severe property damage in Puerto Rico. Perez Jr. said many home foundations have collapsed, at least partially, and the rebuilding efforts will take years.

“In the small towns, there is a fair amount of inundation which has lead to growth of mold and in the hillsides, the landslides, unfortunately,” Perez Jr. said.

The New York City Parks Department sent foresters to canvas the more than 30 municipalities in Puerto Rico to help clear fallen trees and other debris. To help them do that, OEM staff are setting up a data sharing system that can help communications and data sharing between New York City and Puerto Rico.

Many in the New York team are Latinos themselves. They felt a special fellowship and were compelled to help in this time of crisis. 

“I wanted to help. I feel as a Latino, very attached to all Latinos really and all the people I see here. I feel they are my family,” Adolfo Baca-Carrillo, a systems engineer manager, said.

For some in the group, this not the first deployment. Juan Antonio Maldonado, a sergeant with the NYPD, said he noticed some improvements to the storm response by emergency crews in Puerto Rico this time around.

“I saw a lot of positives out of this. Some issues should’ve been more resolved, but I think, like everything in life, it’s been a learning curve. They’ve done tremendous work,” said Sgt. Maldonado.

But what has been the most impressive, according to the New York crew, is the resilience and gratitude of the people in Puerto Rico.

“You will see people here that lost everything and even though they lost everything, they always offer us a bottle of water,” Baca-Carrillo said.

NYC Parks Dept. forester William Dominguez agreed.

“When someone is going through something and they extend their hand to you it’s very, very humbling,” Dominguez said.

This New York emergency staff will be in Puerto Rico until Oct. 6. The goal is to streamline the response efforts and communicating during this visit, to be able to better help Puerto Rico should they need it in the future.