Amherst readies welcome for Puerto Ricans

  • This Sept. 20, 2017, photo shows smashed poles and snarled power lines brought down by Hurricane Maria, in Humacao, Puerto Rico.  AP Photo/Carlos Giusti

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — Two families and a child have already relocated to Amherst from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

With more families expected to arrive in the weeks and months ahead as hardships on the island continue — including a lack of electricity and potable water — town and school officials are undertaking an effort to make sure Amherst is ready to welcome the islanders.

A planning event that will bring together community groups, social service agencies and the public, is to take place at the middle school library Nov. 2, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The planning event is also being coordinated by Health Director Julie Federman, who points out that Massachusetts has the fifth largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States. Anyone who can’t make the Nov. 2 event can offer input or assistance by contacting Guevara at guevaram@arps.org or Federman at federmanj@amherstma.gov.

Marta Guevara, director of student and family engagement for the schools, said in an email that many students in Puerto Rico are not in school, and others are faring even worse.

“People are dying and they don’t see the situation getting better any time soon,” Guevara said. “Most folks don’t want to leave the island, but need to in order to survive.”

Already, two families are in Amherst for medical reasons, while a girl came to live with relatives, Guevara said. Other residents have informed school and town officials that they also have family members who will be coming to Amherst.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.