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How some N.H. residents are trying to support family affected by Hurricane Fiona from afar

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Gaby Lozada
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Ana Colón left Puerto Rico as a kid, but she says her ties with the island remained strong. Periodically she visits her family on the island.

Ana Colón left Puerto Rico with her family as a kid. Today, she lives in Nashua, but her sister still lives in Ponce, a town in the island's southern region.

And for Colón, the last week has been brutal. When she first heard Hurricane Fiona was approaching Puerto Rico, her heart sank. Five years ago, she and her partner were caught up in Hurricane Maria while vacationing on the island; news of the latest storm took her back to the fear she felt out in the rain and thunder.

“It was the most horrible experience,” she said. “We had to run away in the middle of the night.”

When Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico this weekend, it brought severe flooding and wiped out power for more than 3 million people, according to NPR. Initially, Colón was worried she wouldn’t be able to get news from her sister and her three children. She said her mind was filled with memories of good times but also with the horror of the possibility of losing them.

“They saw a mountain collapse and the earth open like a wolf's mouth,” Colón said, recalling what her family witnessed during the storm.

In the aftermath of Fiona, Colón’s family has been able to talk regularly thanks to a solar panel her sister bought after Maria, which allows her to charge her phone. Colón said their electricity has been coming and going, thanks to a generator, but she worries they might need something else — even a new home.

“They are safe now,” she said, “but I am ready to help them if needed.”

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Courtesy / Carlos Cardona
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Carlos Cardona with his mother, father, and brother in their home in Puerto Rico, where he visits frequently.

About 17,000 New Hampshire residents trace their heritage to Puerto Rico, according to 2020 Census estimates, representing about one-third of the state’s Latino population.

Like Colón, Laconia resident Carlos Cardona said he is also ready to help his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. Many of his 34 cousins have been affected.

His father is in Aguadilla, on the northeastern tip of the island. Cardona said he shared a video that showed his backyard destroyed by the rain and said the water rose in minutes, razing an acre of land with plantain banana trees.

“I don’t know what they will do except get some help from relatives here on the mainland,” Cardona said.

Cardona said one of his cousins, Julio Roldán, is also the mayor of Aguadilla. Roldán sent him aerial photos of the town’s streets and farms underwater. Cardona said his family has also told him there is insufficient water and food.

Living far from his parents in moments like this is difficult for him.

“There is not one piece of land from my hometown that I recognize,” Cardona said.

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Courtesy
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Julio Roldán via Carlos Cardona
Aerial photos of Aguadila taken earlier this week.

Hurricane Fiona also hit other islands across the Caribbean this week and, so far, has killed at least five people. As its path crossed the Dominican Republic, Exeter resident Lucia M. Montás was worried about what it would mean for her father.

“Being far away, you feel you want to help, but you don’t know exactly how,” she said.

Montás said her father is safe — they spoke Thursday morning over the phone — but he told her there are still power outages and heavy rain.

Montás also has family in Puerto Rico, and she has beautiful memories of visiting Carolina, a town close to San Juan, every summer. Now, she fears those places have been destroyed.

She has been closely following what's happening in Puerto Rico via Instagram and trying to find a way to help the victims. Many people distrust the government, she said, and therefore prefer to donate to other organizations.

“People are worried the help is not distributed as it should,” she said.

Montás believes weathering the hard times brought by these storms has made her family more tight-knit, and she hopes it will remain that way. She has 24 cousins, some of whom came to the mainland after María. She hopes the recent devastation doesn't force others to flee the island.

“But I know they are very strong and will never give up,” she said.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.