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Peabody responds to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

Along with other North Shore communities, Peabody has answered the desperate cry for help from a place 1,700 miles away: Puerto Rico.

On Sept. 20, the island was decimated by punishing winds of up to 155 miles per hour from Category 4 Hurricane Maria, according to the National Hurricane Center. Before Maria, Puerto Rico had caught a glancing blow from Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6, which at the time was an even stronger Category 5 monster. In addition to 34 deaths and the immense level of destruction, Maria knocked out power to all 3.4 million residents. The current outlook remains bleak, as electricity is not expected to be restored for the next six to 12 months.

“We have dribbles of communications telling us about the conditions … The island is unrecognizable; many people are going to spend the holidays homeless,” said Georgianna Melendez, a member of the new Facebook group North Shore Mass. for Puerto Rico, during a community meeting on Oct. 3. Melendez has a number of family members who live on the island.

Mayor Edward Bettencourt said he recently received an email from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz asking for money. “The money request was to rebuild and restructure,” he said. “It’s painful to watch, it’s painful to see.” Therefore, Bettencourt said, the city will set up a PayPal donation link on its website.

Melendez said some of the items that will run out the quickest include toothpaste, shampoo, razors and condoms. “People still have sex even if they don’t have electricity,” she said.

Other items that can be donated include batteries, car inverter outlets, solar chargers for cellphones and flashlights. Melendez said clothing and bottled water are not being collected, as other communities have been sending those items. “It costs too much for us to ship; let someone else take care of that,” she said.

Melendez said the City of Lawrence has made tremendous progress in collecting donations. “They have a warehouse with pallets piled high,” she said.

Yet, Melendez said one of her greatest concerns is that the crisis in Puerto Rico could eventually be forgotten. “My fear with disaster relief is once it’s not in the news anymore, people forget about it,” she said.

Melendez said another challenge is transporting items from Peabody to Puerto Rico. “If someone has a private plane, please tell me,” she said. In response, one resident said she would speak with officials at Beverly Airport about the possibility of making such arrangements.

Residents also suggested sending letters to local businesses asking for donations and making robocalls. In addition, Scott Sternberg of Salem suggested sending aid to cities elsewhere on the island so as not to get it lost in the bottleneck at San Juan.

Melendez also urged residents to attend a relief drive, which will be held at Immaculate Conception Parish at 15 Hawthorne Blvd. in Salem from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 7.

By Christopher Roberson

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