CT planning for influx of Maria victims but how many is unclear

Office of the governor

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, left, meet with state officials at the State Armory on Hartford to plan for an influx of victims of Hurricane Maria.

Connecticut officials have begun planning for an influx of Puerto Ricans seeking refuge from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, but say it will be weeks or months before it becomes clear how many may come to Connecticut – temporarily or permanently.

On Friday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state emergency management leaders met to discuss plans to accommodate evacuees. The state is currently updating a plan that was developed after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

The state is working with social service agencies and charity organizations to ensure that new arrivals will have the resources they need, like access to health insurance, housing and schools, a spokesman for the governor’s office said.

On Thursday, the administration said it was sending a memo to all school superintendents suggesting protocols to ensure that any school-aged child arriving in the state has immediate access to school and connections to services they need.

Estimating how many survivors of the storm might come to Connecticut is difficult because communication with Puerto Rico and transportation to and from the island have been limited. But the state has 250,000 residents who are Puerto Rican, or of Puerto Rican ancestry, many of whom have family on the island.

Malloy said Friday he could see that number expanding greatly – perhaps even doubling – depending on conditions on the island and the speed of recovery. Malloy made his remarks at the Connecticut Air National Guard base in East Granby as additional guard personnel left for Puerto Rico. This was the second group of guardsmen sent to the island to help after the disaster. More than 100 Connecticut guardsmen have helped with relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Charles Venator-Santiago, an associate political science professor with a joint appointment at UConn’s El Instituto for Latino, Caribbean and Latin American Studies, said Friday that he expects that the large majority of Puerto Ricans coming to Connecticut after the hurricane will stay temporarily and will want to return to their homes and jobs.

Venator-Santiago, who lives in Coventry, picked up his mother at an airport in New Jersey on Thursday, after she left her flooded home in Puerto Rico. He said she wants to go back as soon as possible, but not until electricity and water are restored.

“It’s really hard to walk away from your life,” he said. “As soon as the lights are on, they will go back.”