Cost of transportation hinders local Puerto Rico relief effort

Chickens pass in front of a home damaged after Hurricane Maria in Corozal, Puerto Rico, on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017.
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TAMPA, Fla. - A group determined to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico has enough donated supplies to fill two shipping containers.

“I did not expect to have these many donations,” said Christian Velázquez, who sprang into action when he learned how devastating Hurricane Maria would be.

They put out a call to Tampa Bay residents and supplies came pouring in.

“It was just amazing to be able to see people go into department stores and say ‘hey my budget is 100 bucks and I’m going to go ahead and put a third of that into this donation,” said Héctor Graxirena, who is also working with the group.

Now they have thousands of pounds of water, food and hygiene products.

The problem is actually getting them to the island. It's something they've been trying to do for almost a month.

“We need to get all this stuff out of here. It doesn't do anything in my storage,” Velázquez said. “It costs money to have it here. It costs money to ship it.”

And that's the one thing they don't have - money for transportation.

“It makes everyone feel useless in a way because you cannot expedite and get this stuff there right away,” Graxirena said.

To finish the job, they’re selling t-shirts to raise the money they need.

But some donations from Tampa Bay have arrived in Puerto Rico.

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Lester Morales is from Tampa but lives on the island. He has helped to bridge the two.

“It's been a little more challenging than anyone would've anticipated,” said Morales, who created Ayuda Mi Isla.

One reason is people who could provide free transportation had already done it after hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“If you had a plane and you were trying to donate that plane you can only do so so many times on your own dollar,” he said.

The other option are ships, but sending a single container by water can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000.

One group, Course of Action PR, says they have already sent half a million pounds from Tampa to Puerto Rico.

Morales has helped deliver some of it.

“It has been unbelievably heart-warming and just gut-wrenching some people who have not received water in five or six days, retirement communities who are rationing eight bottles of water amongst 60 residents and they’re only allowed to drink water while they’re taking their pills,” he said.

And the work continues. Every day people in Tampa Bay are donating, sorting, and packing supplies.

“I tell you the amount of donations that are still sitting is in the states is still not even going to put a dent in what’s actually going to be needed, not only on the short-term, but also the long term to help the island get back on its feet,” Morales said.