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New Haven Prepared To Help Puerto Ricans Displaced By Earthquakes, Mayor Says

Office of New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker says the city has already received two families and three students affected by the earthquakes in Puerto Rico.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker says his city and school district are ready to welcome children and families displaced by the earthquake in Puerto Rico.  

For the past week the Caribbean island has been hit by powerful earthquakes and a series of tremors that have displaced thousands and left many more without power or water. 

Mayor Elicker spoke with Morning Edition Host Tom Kuser about the city’s preparations. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

You released a joint statement with New Haven superintendent of schools late last week. Could you tell us a bit about that statement?  

Sure. So New Haven has always been a place that’s welcomed people who are struggling. And now is no different. There’s been obviously a pretty significant crisis in Puerto Rico, and we want to make clear that if there are individuals in Puerto Rico that end up coming to New Haven that we are prepared. The superintendent and I have talked about our Board of Education making sure that we’re ready to accept students and have already received two families and three students. 

I was going to ask you, have people begun arriving already from Puerto Rico in New Haven? 

Yeah. We’re keeping an eye on things and are frankly not entirely sure if there will be a lot of people or just a few that end up coming to the city. We want to be prepared.  During Hurricane Maria there were about 300 students that came to the city. We anticipate that the numbers will be fewer than that, but of course we want to be prepared.

The system that the city put in place to help the people coming from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, is that system still in place for this crisis?

We have a network of nonprofits and city departments and the Board of Education that gather together when there are these types of crises, to make sure that we’re prepared. And of course that network still exists. There will be some meetings later this week with some nonprofits including Junta, which has a strong background in supporting the Puerto Rican community, to make sure that we’re communicating and connecting individuals that may be coming into the city with the resources that they need.  

In your statement you mention that New Haven will welcome unaccompanied minors. And I’m wondering about the resources the city has and systems to care for kids who come to Connecticut without parents or guardians?

Sure, and that’s a great question. As you can imagine, that situation comes up even when there isn’t some sort of disaster like this one. And the Board of Education is accustomed to working in cases where there may be unaccompanied minors. What’s important for us is to track the cost because FEMA should be reimbursing us for these costs. And obviously we don’t want to have a negative impact on the city’s budget, so we will be monitoring the costs. 

Have you been in touch with FEMA already about this?

Our city’s been in conversation with them. Yes.

When a displaced person arrives in New Haven, or in the area, from Puerto Rico where should they go for support? Who should they contact first?

They can contact, of course, the Mayor’s Office. And they can also contact the public schools. There’s an individual Danny Diaz, who is the point of contact. He’s bilingual and he’s managing the influx, should there be more people.    

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.