It’s the fifth strongest storm to ever hit the United States. On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on Puerto Rico and left widespread destruction behind. The 150 mph winds and flooding rain knocked out power for the entire island and wrecked structures in multiple towns. The entire electrical infrastructure was destroyed, and there are communities where 80 to 90 percent of homes were lost.
Much of the island’s population cannot access clean water without electricity, and in the wake of the disaster, many residents lacked homes, electricity, access to clean water, and food.
Even now – 3 weeks after Hurricane Maria – 40% of the island’s residents are still waiting for clean water, and only 15% have electricity. Because of the lack of electricity, their healthcare system is also in dire condition.
Block O’Toole & Murphy – Hurricane Relief Initiative
The disaster that swept Puerto Rico affected Founding Partner Jeffrey Block and his wife Maritza personally. The two had been incredibly worried about their family members on the island and have heard firsthand accounts of how catastrophic the Category 5 hurricane had been.
The firm had assisted in disaster relief before, including cleaning up areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But they have yet to face a natural disaster far from home where getting necessary supplies and help to hurricane victims was difficult. Sending any mail to the island through retailers like Amazon and Walmart was nearly impossible.
Having frequented the Bronx County Courthouse, the firm’s attorneys noticed that the courthouse was collecting donations which they would deliver to the Javits Center, one of the state’s drop-off points.
Mr. Block and his wife asked the firm’s staff, their friends, and their family members to help donate supplies that they would gather and drop off to the courthouse, where they knew some of the people who work there personally. The two collected items over 4 days.
By the end, they collected over 2,400 pounds of rice, 100 cases of water, 800 bars of soap, 80 boxes of cereal, 64 jars of peanut butter, 120 toothbrushes, and much more. They collected baby formula, diapers, lanterns, batteries, and other essential supplies.
And then – they hit another obstacle.
“The Javits Center was completely full,” recalls Mr. Block. “They received a large number of donations and could not accept any other items for the time being.”
As a result, the Bronx County Courthouse decided to send 4 large containers themselves to Puerto Rico. On October 5th, employees from the Bronx County Courthouse and five staff members from Block O’Toole & Murphy unloaded supplies collected by the firm from the truck driven by the firm’s Founder Jeffrey Block.
The five participants from Block O’Toole & Murphy were Partners Jeffrey Block, David Scher, and Scott Occhiogrosso, and the firm’s receptionist and office clerk Sharon Morris and Milton Espada.
The supplies delivered by Block O’Toole & Murphy filled up half of a large tractor trailer container.
“It’s incredible how many people went out and bought much-needed supplies after Maritza and I asked for donations. Everyone in the firm contributed – even if it was a pack of diapers. It goes to show that the communal effort of many can bring impactful results,” said Mr. Block.
The firm continues to monitor the status of Puerto Rico relief efforts. Mr. Block hopes that their continued support will provide much-needed assistance to the island’s residents.
All items collected, including 2,450 pounds of rice and 100 cases of water
Unloading the supplies from the truck and bringing it into the Bronx County Courthouse
Team photo after all the items were unloaded – Bronx County Courthouse staff and Block O’Toole & Murphy staff
How New Yorkers Can Help
As Puerto Rico faces a lengthy recovery ahead, we can continue to help aid relief efforts. The State of New York has a resource section of their website titled Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico, where you can find out how you can volunteer, make a donation, and drop off supplies. The state currently has 12 drop-off points where you can donate essential supplies such as water, baby formula, and portable lanterns.
Visit the website to learn more: https://www.ny.gov/programs/empire-state-relief-and-recovery-effort-puerto-rico