Chabad-Lubavitch of Puerto Rico is assisting communities left devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Approximately 97% of the island's 3.4 million residents are without power and suffering from a food and potable water shortage in the wake of the Category 4 hurricane, which made landfall on September 20.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said that the storm was “without a doubt the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico.” At least 16 people have been killed by the hurricane and its aftermath, and that number is expected to rise due to the lack of electric power and the toll that may take on essential health services.
To mitigate the damage to local communities, Chabad-Lubavitch has sent private planes full of essentials like canned food, bottled water, medical items and other critical supplies to affected areas. A doctor was also on board to provide medical assistance to those in need.
Two planes loaded with approximately 4,000 pounds of food and supplies landed in San Juan on Tuesday and Wednesday. The private plane that flew on Tuesday belongs to Ralph Nakash, real-estate developer and founder of Jordache. The second plane was largely supported by the Falic family who own Duty Free Americas, a network of duty-free shops.
With or without private planes, Chabad members are getting involved. Because the storm cut off communication lines, Idan Labor -- who attends the Chabad in San Juan -- took a raft and searched for elderly Jewish residents to make sure they were okay. After they were all accounted for, Labor made an additional trip with food and water.
“To see the utter devastation firsthand and so close to home is shocking,” Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, co-director of Chabad of Puerto Rico, told Chabad.org. “Thousands of homes are locked in by the filthy floodwaters, even six days post-storm. With gratitude to the Almighty, we were able to locate the families we were looking for, and bring them food and water.”
Chabad also assisted Israeli citizens who were trying to evacuate from the island. Flights from Puerto Rico have been severely curtailed due to radar damage and other problems caused by Maria.
For many Jewish residents staying on the island, the storm has also impacted the high holidays as Maria hit right before Rosh Hashana. Services were cancelled and synagogue leaders urged their congregants to stay home during the Jewish New Year.
A curfew that requires residents to stay in their homes from 6pm to 6am affects worshipers getting to Yom Kippur services. Chabad worked with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, however, who notified the police that Jewish residents would be allowed outside after 6pm to get to synagogue services.
Puerto Rico is a US territory and Puerto Ricans hold US citizenship. The Trump administration has been criticized by many residents and government officials for being slow to respond to the disaster.
Trump will visit Puerto Rico on October 3 to survey the damage.
Donations to Chabad of Puerto Rico may be sent here.