HOLLAND, MICH. - The disaster in Puerto Rico could bring a mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland, including here in West Michigan.
Often times, hurricanes lead to survivors starting over somewhere else. We saw it after Hurricane Katrina, when more than 40,000 people relocated from New Orleans to either Texas or Louisiana.
With the island of Puerto Rico facing a long road of recovery, some groups are gearing up for a Hispanic influx.
"Its an awful year for people," Roberto Jara said as he watched news coverage on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The Executive Director for the Latina Americans United for Progress group--or LAUP--has watched the destruction over the last few weeks devastate his clients.
"It's even impacted attendance at our classes because people are so worried about their families and sticking close to the phone and TV," Jara said.
According to Jara, 25 percent of Holland's population is Latino. The community has been watching the events in Puerto Rico and Mexico unfold and are preparing themselves to help.
"For a surge like this, if it ends up materializing, we will step up," Jara said. "There are a lot of organizations that specialize in providing food and clothing and housing assistance. We know what those organizations are. We know the people on staff of those organizations that are bilingual. So we will be the conduit to guide people to those locations."
LAUP builds bridges between the community and Latinos in the area and wants to provide a lending hand to those who may no longer have anything.
"Really it's just like a landing place. People come into this office, people speak their language. People know the culture, people find a home here. There are people in this community who will do anything they can to welcome people coming in looking for a better life."
On Thursday, President Donald Trump cleared the way for more supplies to head to Puerto Rico by issuing a 10-day waiver of federal restrictions on foreign ships delivering cargo to the island.
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