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Utahns watch and worry as Hurricane Fiona ravages Puerto Rico

Posted at 9:38 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 23:38:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Hours of nonstop rainfall and catastrophic floods continue to ravage the island of Puerto Rico as Hurricane Fiona wreaks havoc for a third day in a row.

Families are stranded and without power. The National Guard has already rescued hundreds.

Puerto Ricans living in Utah tell FOX 13 News it’s been a stressful, concerning 48 hours.

“My mom was telling me that the flooding is crazy, it’s not stopping,” said Francisco Rivera, owner of Puerto Rico Detailing in Roy.

He stayed on the phone with her through some of the storm’s most intense moments.

“Actually she was comforting me,” he said. “She was telling me, ‘It was OK, it was OK.’ That she was OK and she safe.”

Local folk artist Alli Arocho said she wasn’t able to get ahold of her dad for 18 hours.

“There’s a specific and horrible kind of anxiety that exists not just for me but people in the diaspora,” she said.

Arocho lived in Puerto Rico for 23 years before moving to the United States. That’s when she started researching and creating vejigante masks, Puerto Rican Carnival masks influenced by the island’s Spanish, African, and Indigenous roots.

“They exemplify the playful spirit that is inherent in Puerto Ricans where they will find joy in almost any situation,” she said.

Arocho’s take on vejigante masks puts a special emphasis on the smile and eye bags – physical characteristics that she sees in her community and culture.

“I like to think of my vejigantes as tired but happy. And I think that’s how a lot of Puerto Ricans feel,” she said. “They’ve been fighting everything with just one foot on the ground, you know?

Resilient attributes that Rivera also sees in his loved ones.

“[My mother’s] like, ‘Actually, we’re cleaning up. Customers are coming to help clean so we can get the store going.’ And that’s the attitude, that’s the attitude of Puerto Ricans,” he said. “Something happens and we’re going to get back up.”

American Red Cross disaster teams are already in Puerto Rico. There are no volunteers from Utah or Nevada on the island yet but the Red Cross’s regional office tells FOX 13 News teams are ready once they get the call.

Arocho also shared local organizations you can support, including La Brigada Solidaria del Oeste. The organization is made up of several communities that gathered together to provide immediate relief when Hurricane Maria struck five years ago. For more information, click here.