Tropical Storm Maria quickly turned into a Hurricane on Wednesday, packing a power punch with winds of 115 mph that wiped out electricity to all of Puerto Rico.
The force of the storm toppled trees while widespread flooding was reported throughout the island.
It comes on the heels of several menacing storms that have assaulted the Caribbean islands and turned paradise into a nightmare.
Baltimore area residents who have lived in Maryland – for most of or parts of their lives – and whose families and loved ones still live in the Caribbean, are not only concerned, but they have sprung into action to help.
A group of individuals have founded a new nonprofit called the Caribbean Disaster Relief & Recovery Alliance, Inc., whose model is “helping people recover their lives.”
“This effort is more important than ever and, based on the weather projections, we may have even more islands impacted,” said Loughton Sargeant, a St. Croix native and senior electrical engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who serves as treasurer for the nonprofit.
“The most important message I can give to folks is that people are suffering and we need help,” Sargeant said.
“Some have no food, no clothes and it’s critical that we reach out,” he said.
The Caribbean Disaster Relief and Recovery Alliance was established this month to help address the needs of disaster stricken islands like St. Thomas, St. John, St. Marteen, Antigua, Tortola and Barbuda.
By Wednesday, the nonprofit had added St. Croix, Dominica, and Puerto Rico to the islands they’re seeking to assist.
The death toll from Maria had reached seven by late Wednesday in Dominica, Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told reporters.
Browne said Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit reported widespread devastation and his own house was destroyed by the storm.
Forecasters said as much as 18 inches of rain would be dumped on Puerto Rico and, by Thursday, Maria was expected to hit the Dominican Republic.
Elaine Simon, a member of the nonprofit, said those islands will need assistance for years to come.
She said the group has enlisted the help of former senator and WOLB talk show host Larry Young and radio DJ Lolo, who also hails from the Virgin Islands.
“We are in direct contact with individuals from those islands in addition to what the governments are doing, they need our help,” Simon said.
The nonprofit has started collecting non-perishables, baby clothes and wipes, sheets, towels, feminine products, tooth paste and many other items as well as cash to assist those in need.
They have identified churches and other organizations to ensure that those in need receive the donations as soon as possible.
Later, the organization will work to help with larger requests, like doors, windows, hammers and nails to help rebuild the islands – particularly Barbuda where that island has been totally devastated, Simon said.
They’ll also include donations to Texas and Florida victims, she said.
“We do have brothers and sisters and families in Texas and in Florida and we need to give back to them and this group is very diverse and very committed,” Simon said.
Beginning at 3 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 28, the Caribbean Disaster Relief and Recovery Alliance plan to collect donations at 801 McCulloh Street in Baltimore. They’ve also established a donation drop-off location at Island Cuisine, 8128 Liberty Road in Windsor Mill.
“We’ll take whatever; 50 cents, $1. It will all help with shipping and purchasing items in addition to what we’re already collecting,” Simon said.
For more information or to donate, call 443-869-1835 or visit, www.cdra-inc.org.