September 23, 2017 at 10:59 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico, St. Croix

Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. (Image by Nicolas Raymond; courtesy Flickr)

Residents of Puerto Rico have begun the long recovery process from Hurricane Maria that devastated the U.S. commonwealth on Wednesday.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, was volunteering at a shelter in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan when Maria made landfall on the island’s southwest coast with 155 mph winds.

Serrano on his Facebook page wrote his apartment received “minor damages” during the hurricane. He said Maria partially destroyed his parents’ home.

“The silence is deafening,” wrote Serrano on his Facebook page on Thursday afternoon. “Only the coquís (small frogs that can be found throughout Puerto Rico) interrupt it.”

Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Latinx and Catholic Initiatives, on Wednesday afternoon wrote on her Facebook page that Maria flooded her parents’ home in Caguas, a city that is about 20 miles south of San Juan, and destroyed their deck and fence. She said her parents and family are “ok.”

Maria killed at least six people in Puerto Rico.

The entire island of remains without power after Maria damaged its electrical infrastructure that was already in disrepair because Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has prevented the utility company from regularly maintaining it.

Authorities on Friday urged people in the towns of Isabela and Quebradilla on Puerto Rico’s northwestern coast who live downstream from a dam to evacuate because flooding may cause it to fail. Maria has also interrupted cell phone and internet service on the island.

LGBT Puerto Ricans who live in the D.C. area have been using Facebook to receive information about their family and friends who were on the island during Maria.

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday led a delegation that traveled to Puerto Rico to help with the Maria relief effort. He noted to reporters before he left John F. Kennedy International Airport that his state has the largest Puerto Rican community outside of Puerto Rico.

“The devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, which caused severe flooding in Puerto Rico and knocked out power across the island, has been especially hard-hitting for our city’s Puerto Rican community,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in San Juan, in an email she sent to her constituents on Friday that included information on ways New Yorkers can support the relief effort. “Many of us have family and friends in Puerto Rico who we are deeply concerned about.”

St. Croix ‘looks like nuclear weapons went off’

Maria caused widespread destruction on the island of Dominica on Monday night when it made landfall with winds of more than 155 mph.

The Category 4 hurricane also caused significant damage on the French island of Guadeloupe. Maria passed just south of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday before it made landfall in Puerto Rico.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito attends an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia march in Havana on May 13, 2017. She was born in Puerto Rico and has urged New Yorkers to support Hurricane Maria relief efforts. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hurricane Irma devastated the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barts, Anguilla and Barbuda, Turks and Caicos, the north central coast of Cuba, portions of the Bahamas and the Florida Keys earlier this month.

Lavonne Wise, an LGBT rights advocate who lives in the town of Frederiksted on St. Croix, told Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from her home that she and her partner had not had power since Irma struck the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 6.

Wise on Friday said in a series of Facebook messages to the Blade that her home is “safe,” but she and her partner haven’t been able to leave because of fallen trees.

“The island is a disaster,” she said. “Maria took what Irma left.”

Wise told the Blade there is no electricity, telephone or internet service on St. Croix. She also said there was looting, but added neighbors are “helping neighbors.”

“It looks like nuclear weapons went off in my area,” said Wise.

Alturi, an organization that seeks to promote further engagement on global LGBT and intersex issues, and the Rustin Fund for Global Equality have created a fund designed to help Irma’s LGBT victims in the Caribbean. The groups are raising funds for the Jamaica-based Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, which provides “services directly to and on behalf of Caribbean populations who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection or often forgotten in access to treatment and healthcare programs.”

Irma also damaged the Centro Comunitario de Cultura, an LGBT community center in the Cuban town of Santo Domingo. Victor Manuel Dueñas, the center’s founder, has told the Blade during telephone interviews and emails after the hurricane that clothes and shoes are among his organization’s post-hurricane needs.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • lnm3921

    The fake POTUS fails to act there too! He’s too busy tweeting about NFL players to actually do his job and focus on a real human crises! Kanye said about G.W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina, Trump doesn’t like Puerto Ricans or any minorities! How much of his own money is Trump pledging to contribute to help the people of Puerto Rico?

    He should have immediately flown down to the island not wait until they clear a gold course for him to spend his time on while there! Trump only cares about himself!

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