Concern in New York Parishes for Fiona’s Victims

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Father Osvaldo Hernandez, parochial vicar of St. Peter and St. Mary parish in Haverstraw said he and family members returned to New York from their native Dominican Republic Sept. 18 after visiting relatives for five days to celebrate September birthdays, especially the birthday of his father, also named Osvaldo, who turned 70.  

“We left just in time, at 2 in the afternoon Sunday; and the hurricane (Fiona) hit at 8 that night (in the Dominican Republic),” Father Hernandez, 35, told Catholic New York in a Sept. 22 phone interview. 

“It (the power outages) has affected a lot of people. I have cousins who live in Punta Cana, and it has affected them a great deal, and also in the area of the Altagracia Basilica (in Higuey), with electricity out and light poles on the ground. It is something incredible.”

Father Hernandez said a makeshift hospital was set up in the parking lot of the basilica. He said thankfully none of his relatives in his beloved Dominican Republic were injured.

He noted that special Mass collections at St. Peter and St. Mary for Hurricane Fiona victims will be forwarded to archdiocesan Catholic Charities. The parish Masses have included daily prayers for Fiona victims.

Catholic Charities of New York says it “stands in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean” as residents of the island nations start to recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Fiona.

“We pray for everyone’s safety and affirm our commitment to assist in recovery efforts throughout the region,” the agency said in a statement this week. 

“As we did five years ago, after Hurricane Maria, we are prepared to support the local work of Caritas Puerto Rico and other organizations already on the ground assisting those most affected.” 

More than a million people in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were without power or running water this week as crews worked to repair critical utilities disabled by Hurricane Fiona, which later became stronger and pounded Bermuda on Friday.

The first major hurricane of this year’s Atlantic season has killed several people across the Caribbean: in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the French island of Guadeloupe. 

On Sept. 18, Hurricane Fiona knocked out power and water to most of Puerto Rico and National Guard troops rescued hundreds of people who got stranded. The blow from Fiona was made more devastating because Puerto Rico has yet to fully recover from Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the power grid in 2017.

Lucia Rodriguez, 66, a volunteer at St. Jerome parish in the Bronx, said her relatives in Puerto Rico were safe, but that their home sustained flood damage and a tree fell on her sister’s car. 

“It’s a disaster in Puerto Rico; but I know they’re OK,” said Ms. Rodriguez in a Sept. 23 phone interview. “They were without light and faucet water. They were afraid that their home would collapse…When I first heard the news (about Hurricane Fiona) I was very worried.” She said she remains hopeful that her relatives will stay safe from injury.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis called for greater solidarity in assisting all those affected by Hurricane Fiona. In separate Sept. 21 telegrams sent to the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Puerto Rico and of the Dominican Republic, the pope assured them of his prayers, asking that God would offer his consolation to those suffering from the natural disaster, Catholic News Service reported.

The pope was “deeply distressed to learn of the natural disasters that have struck” both countries due to Hurricane Fiona, the telegrams said.

Hurricane Fiona touched down in Puerto Rico Sept. 18, causing massive flooding, wind damage, power outages and the shutdown of water service across a large part of the island, affecting millions of residents. 

In the Dominican Republic, the hurricane caused heavy damage as it picked up strength moving north, triggering mudslides and destroying hundreds of homes.

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