NEWARK, NJ - City and state officials gathered in Washington Park on Wednesday to honor the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico two years ago this week on a day when the island territory was once again being hit by bad weather.
Mayor Ras Baraka recalled that at the time the hurricane hit in 2017, Newark residents, among them a large contingent of Puerto Ricans, helped pack planeloads of resources to send to the island.
In early October of 2017, the city deployed 10 police officers to assist agencies responding to Hurricane Maria’s impact. The officers were deployed in three rotating teams for a total of 42 days, according to the Department of Public Safety.
"It just tells you what Newark is about," Baraka said. "We all come together in this city as Newarkers and we took care of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico."
While not nearly as severe at the Category 5 storm that destroyed the island’s power grid and killed more than 3,000 people, a tropical storm was making its way over Puerto Rico Wednesday threatening flash floods and mudslides the day after an earthquake also hit there.
Gov. Phil Murphy noted that Puerto Rico still has not fully recovered from Hurricane Maria’s impact two years ago, which hit just before he took office.
"We are here… to pay tribute to the lives that were lost, the lives that have been displaced, in some cases permanently, to remember that the work is far from done," Murphy said. "We must stay together, be proud of what we’ve done but declare no victories until everyone is made whole again."
The ceremony in Washington Park included a wreath laying ceremony at the bust of Luis Munoz Rivera, a journalist, writer and politician whose work led to the enactment of the Jones Act, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship.
"New Jersey may be miles and miles away from the island of Puerto Rico but we are intimately intertwined in a history that can never be separated," said state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz. "When our parents selected places to live, they looked to Paterson, they looked to Perth Amboy… and they looked to the City of Newark to raise the next generation of Puertorriqueño."
Councilmember At-Large Luis Quintana, one of several Puerto Rican lawmakers in attendance, highlighted the work of public officials at the local and state level who helped raise money to help the Puerto Rican people. At the time, island residents struggled to access basic necessities because federal relief was slow to roll in.
"It was an effort about the people, the human cry of the people of Puerto Rico and we all came together," Quintana said.
Murphy said the bond between New Jersey and Puerto Rico was “deep, it’s rich, it’s unbreakable.”
"No city shined brighter than Newark," Murphy said of the city providing relief efforts after the storm. "I think Paterson came in a very close second."