Three weeks after Puerto Rico’s shores and countryside were pulverized by Hurricane Maria, some residents of the island are looking for a way out, and some of those leaving are coming to the Killeen-Fort Hood area.
At least 17 people who fled the south-central coastal towns of Coamo and Ponce, leaving behind life-threatening living conditions that included a scarcity of food and water, lack of power, and broken communications channels, are now living in the Killeen-Fort Hood area.
Killeen resident and businessman Orville Moreno, himself from Santa Isabel in southern Puerto Rico, helped make that possible by paying for their flights, he said in Spanish.
Family and friends were on a United Airlines flight from San Juan that landed Saturday in Austin. Ten of the 17 are staying at Moreno’s house near Clear Creek Road and others are in a rented house, he said.
Beginning the process of establishing residency and finding work is next. Another 15-20 people are expected.
Seventy-one of the passengers on the airliner had some form of disability or were elderly, Moreno said. Some had come from nursing homes.
“They were desperate,” he said, adding that the passengers, like so many others on the U.S. territory, struggled about 15 days as resources dwindled. Maria made landfall Sept. 20.
“It’s been a learning opportunity,” Moreno said. “The (Puerto Rican people) won’t be defeated.”
On Tuesday, the death toll had risen to 45, and nearly 90 percent of the island remained without power, according to the communications portal maintained in Spanish by the Puerto Rico government.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that as of Sunday, about 57 percent of customers of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority have drinking water, according to the Associated Press.
Local efforts in Central Texas continue to collect donations for Puerto Rico, with a priority being given to water and food, according to Nelson Santiago, president of Sociedad Cultural Hispanoamericana.
A shipment of those donations was sent from Killeen to Austin last weekend. The food and water will be loaded on a plane — along with donations collected by other organizations across central Texas — and flown to Puerto Rico.
Other non-food donations will be shipped on a later flight, Santiago said.
Sociedad Cultural Hispanoamericana has been working with HelpingPuertoRico.org, and is also now connecting with the Knights of Columbus Council 4724 to establish a center where volunteers will be available to accept donations throughout the week.
Donations can be dropped off at the following locations during regular business hours:
• First National Texas Bank, 4304 E. Central Texas Expressway
• First National Texas Bank, 201 E. Central Texas Expressway
• Blessed Cuts, 810 N. W.S. Young Drive
• U-Haul Moving and Storage of Twin Creek, 1507 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Donations will also be accepted beginning Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 2901 St. Francis Street, behind St. Joseph Catholic Church. Volunteers will be available from Monday through Saturday after that, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A fundraising event for Puerto Rico and earthquake victims in Mexico is being planned by the Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce Central Texas on Oct. 21. The event will feature music, dance groups, restaurants and food trucks. The event is expected to begin at 11 a.m. at the Killeen Special Events Center, 3301 S. W.S. Young Drive. All proceeds will be donated to those working directly with the communities affected.
The fundraiser is being called “Together for a Cause Fundraising Event.”
For more information, go to www.facebook.com/pages/Killeen-Special-Events-Center/167726466597802 or www.haccctx.org.