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Utah backing Puerto Rico relief campaign

(Scott G Winterton, KSL)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Park City resident Vince Dilley saw firsthand the devastation and suffering Hurricane Maria left behind in Puerto Rico.

He recently returned from a nine-day humanitarian trip to the U.S. territory where 71 percent of residents remain without electricity and 29 percent lack water.

"Conditions aren't good. We came across people who don't have any light, don't have any water. Some people don't have food," he said, adding they were looking mostly for older people and children who couldn't help themselves.

Dilley, who served an LDS Church mission to Puerto Rico, said "through a myriad of events" people with ties to the island and companies came together to send 14 volunteers down to provide relief through a group called Light Up Puerto Rico.

In November, another wave of Utahns is headed to the Caribbean island, but this time with the support of the state of Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced Monday that the state is getting behind the effort to send 40 volunteers, including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, to deliver portable power sources, lights and other supplies to hurricane-stricken communities in Puerto Rico.

"We're not going to sit idly by when we have opportunities to help people," he said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "This really is a call to action today."

The state isn't paying for the trip but urging Utahns to donate to Tifie Humanitarian, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit and the umbrella organization over Light Up Puerto Rico. Cox said 100 percent of every donation goes toward the supplies and volunteers are paying their own travel costs.

Cox intends to meet with government officials in Puerto Rico to find out what more the state could do beyond November's mission.

"We'll be talking to them to see if there are other things Utah is uniquely situated to do," he said, adding he's hoping to send groups down every month for at least the next three months.

Brad Herbert, the governor's son and a Zions Bank marketing executive, is among those who have helped organize the relief effort. Light Up Puerto Rico has raised nearly $300,000 so far, he said. Brad Herbert, who served an LDS mission in Puerto Rico, said disaster victims typically see an influx of relief and then everyone leaves.

"This cause is not going to go away. We're not a love 'em and leave 'em effort," said Robert Workman, Tifie Humanitarian founder.

Puerto Rico natives Jorge and Carilu Alvarado also helped organize the humanitarian aid and traveled there shortly after the hurricane. The people have shifted from an "island of enchantment" to a third world country, Jorge Alvarado said.

"People there tell us they don't like 6 p.m. As soon as 6 p.m. hits, the island is so dark. Everybody's afraid of the dark already, so we are here so that we can help them get that light," Carilu Alvarado said.

Contributors to the Utah relief effort include Goal Zero, Barebones Living, Vivint, Jet Blue, New Star Solar and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Dennis Romboy

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