LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The death toll in Puerto Rico has risen to 13 after Hurricane Maria left a path of destruction this week. Hundreds more are threatened by floods and the entire island is without power.
Here at home, local Puerto Ricans in Arkansas are collecting supplies, after they said it felt as though not enough was being done to help.
"I'm missing family members right now: my dad, two aunties, and so far my cousin, and it's hard because I haven't been home in so long. And I just can't believe they're missing right now and I can't communicate,” said Neida Llanos Faris tearfully.
Instead of letting panic take over, Puerto Ricans en Arkansas, a group of almost 500 people, are collecting donations to send to the island as soon as it's safe.
"A lot of times you send money to the Red Cross and other organizations and the money doesn't go where it's supposed to. We are doing this so we can send this directly to the island. So we know the people who need it are going to get what they need,” explained Elizabeth Berumen.
The Red Cross, other NGOs, and the U.S. government have faced harsh criticism that they aren't taking Hurricane Maria's devastation in Puerto Rico as seriously as the storms that hit the U.S. mainland.
"We are a part of the United States and we should get the same attention Harvey is getting. The funds, the thoughtfulness, the reaching out. Nobody has reached out to say 'ok hey, what can we do,’” Berumen added.
"We had several volunteers pre-positioned in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands prior to landfall with Hurricane Irma. Those same people. most of them are still there and they kind of weathered the storm with the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Lori McFarlane, Executive Director of Greater Arkansas Red Cross said Friday.
She said as far as the Red Cross goes, it's not a matter of want, but logistics, that is keeping them out of Puerto Rico right now. She herself has been in Southwest Florida for the last ten days, helping that area recover from Hurricane Irma. Volunteers are currently spread from Houston to Mexico City.
The Red Cross, she said, is facing the same obstacles the Puerto Ricans in Arkansas are facing: no access to ports, closed air ports, and little communication, rejecting the notion that the mainland matters more.
"I know that we are going to be giving them just as much help, and support, and relief as possible. As much as we would anyone else," Lori McFarlane said.
Want to pitch in? The Red Cross said you can donate directly to Maria or any other natural disaster victims by texting the name of the storm to 90999.
Puerto Ricans en Arkansas is asking for batteries, diapers for both children and the elderly, water, and non-perishable foods. They will be collecting them and storing them until the island can be reached. You can contact them here.
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