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Minnesotans with Puerto Rico ties remember Maria, work to help recovery from Fiona

A man speaks at a podium
Miguel Ramos, Senior Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Minnesota Twins, speaks at a vigil to remember victims of Hurricane Maria outside El Colegio High School in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

As he stood near the Puerto Rican mural on the side of El Colegio High school, Simon Trautmann pulled out his phone.

Trautmann, a Richfield, Minn. city council member, read the text he received earlier from his cousin who lives in Ciales, Puerto Rico.

“And she said blessings, don't worry, Family is fine. Thank God, it did not affect the area where we live. It is not in a flood zone [in Ciales] but they’re without water and electricity,” Trautmann said.

The Twin Cities Puerto Rican community is working to help the island recover from Hurricane Fiona. They gathered Tuesday to mark the fifth anniversary of another major storm, Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico.

Constant power outages were not normal prior to Hurricane Maria’s destruction in 2017, Trautmann said.

”So we have an obligation to our fellow Americans to not make lack of water and lack of electricity, normal in those homes. They need any water. They need electricity.”

A woman speaks at a podium
María Isa Pérez-Hedges calls for Minnesotans to support Puerto Ricans impacted by Hurricane Fiona at a vigil in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Trautmann and about two dozen others wanted to also focus on Maria. According to government estimates, the Category 5 hurricane killed nearly 3,000 people and wiped out the country’s infrastructure.

Maria Isa Perez-Hedges, a member of the Puerto Ricans in Minnesota Committee, said they are organizing local relief efforts to help the island after Fiona, and those funds will go to emergency relief for what she called essentials, “such as water and solar power, specifically solar power lamps and generators and medical practitioners.”

Unlike five years ago, when Minnesotans collected donated items, this time they are asking for cash donations. Organizers say it’s easier to get money to the island. 

Even before Hurricane Fiona hit, they started mobilizing, Isa Perez-Hedges says.

“It's not about whether you come from Puerto Rico or Mexico, or Red Lake of our tribal nations. It's about we're showing up and gathering as human beings. And so organizing this was a must,” Isa Perez-Hedges said. “We don't wait, because our people can't wait.”

Ivan Fontanez, from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was on the island during Hurricane Maria. Fontanez has spent the past two decades splitting time between Puerto Rico and Minnesota. Seeing images of the impact and devastation from Fiona has caused him to relive what he went through before, and understand what it’s like to see the struggle to survive from afar.

A man wearing sunglasses speaks in front of a mural
Ivan Fontanez speaks about his experience surviving Hurricane Maria in 2017 in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Fontanez said members of his family on the island are ok. Although electricity and water have been knocked out, he says the communication grid was still functioning. He hears the needs vary widely.

“It's affected a lot of different towns and communities in different ways, some flooding, some landslides and, you know, bridges have been washed over,” Fontanez said.

El Fondo Boricua Hurricane Relief, donor advised fund through the St. Paul Foundation, is gathering donations.

Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.