How to help: Disaster response efforts in Mexico and Puerto Rico


Compiled by CUSLAR staff and volunteers

September has seen devastating loss of life and damage to homes and infrastructure in many places, from Texas and Florida to Mexico and the Caribbean. At the same time as this hurricane season has been one of the worst in recent memory, Mexico has suffered two calamitous earthquakes.

There is growing consensus that climate change makes these disasters worse and more frequent, and also that natural phenomena become social disasters affecting the poor and dispossessed most acutely.

Yet in times of disaster, many people are moved to do something — some volunteer, others collect donations, and still others send money.

If you choose to donate money, CUSLAR urges you to consider carefully and select organizations that have connections to grassroots organizers who have already been involved in reconstruction and community organizing efforts. This is usually where dollars are able to be stretched farthest.

Below is more information about the earthquakes in Mexico and the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, and how you can pitch in.


Following the 8.2-magnitude earthquake that struck on September 8th, Mexico was hit by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on September 19th. Originating near Chiapas, the first earthquake was responsible for the deaths of around 100 people and the destruction of more than 45,000 homes, with Chiapas and Oaxaca being the most affected states.

The more recent earthquake originated near the town of Robosa in Puebla and has taken the lives of at least 286 people with the majority of deaths taking place in Mexico City and Morelos. The earthquake also led to the collapse of dozens of buildings, among them a three-story textile factory and an elementary school. As a result of this destruction, thousands have been displaced and scores of people are still missing and rescue efforts have emerged, both domestic and international. More buildings have collapsed since the earthquake, raising the total to over a thousand damaged in Mexico City alone. Thousands are homeless in Mexico City and surrounding areas.

Los Topos, Mexico’s volunteer rescue squads, often first on the scene of collapsed structures,  have been frustrated by Mexican military and police obstruction of rescue efforts. In a press release Wednesday afternoon, the Topos said the government decision to stop looking for survivors was premature, that they should wait to move in with heavy machinery because survivors were still being found in the rubble.

CUSLAR recommends that people who wish to make a monetary donation to help Mexican earthquake response efforts do so directly to the Topos, which is a volunteer organization formed after the 1985 earthquake devastated Mexico City. In the past 30 years, Topos — “moles,” in Spanish — have traveled around the world to help earthquake victims dig out and rescue loved ones. Though donations aid the rescue efforts, no Topo is paid for their work.

Donate to Los Topos México (Via PayPal)

For those who would like to make nonmonetary contributions, the website “Como Ayudar” has a searchable database in Spanish that includes volunteer work, housing, medicines, personal items and more, for earthquake victims.


On Wednesday, Sept 20th, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southeast tip. It continued across the island diagonally, then made a sharp shift to the west, which caused Hurricane Maria to ravage several towns on the northern coast before finally leaving the island around noon.

From what we have seen and heard from friends in our networks and in social media, it has been an island-wide disaster. Most of the island is without electricity and Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, estimated on Thursday that it would be a four to six month recovery for the island. but many areas are still unreachable due to the large amount of debris. As of today, the airport has opened for essential travel only (e.g., one operational runway).

We have been in touch with a network of diasporriqueños (Boricuas in the diaspora) who are organizing here in the US to determine how to best support reconstruction efforts. If you wish to make a monetary donation, CUSLAR recommends the following Puerto Rican networks that already have connections with grassroots organizations and are dedicated to identifying and supporting the most vulnerable communities on the island.

Fiscal Sponsor: Center for Popular Democracy, based in NY, but has Puerto Rican organizers on the island

1511 Ave. Ponce de León Suite K, La Ciudadela
San Juan P.R. 00909
tel: 787-773-1100

Those who live in Ithaca, NY have a unique opportunity to send materials with Karel Hilversum (Cornell Team and Leadership Center) who will travel this SUNDAY MORNING (9/24). Because of the severity of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, there is a need for the following, which will be distributed in rural mountain towns:

  • Alkaline batteries (all types)
  • Mini water filtration systems (can be found locally at Dick’s Sporting Goods at Ithaca Mall)
  • inflatable solar-powered LEDs
  • solar battery packs
  • hand-cranked radios or lights

If you would like to donate these items, please drop them at Karel Hilversum’s office at B01 Bartels Hall at Cornell. You can notify him at They will be picked up Saturday evening.


Those who live in Ithaca, NY can drop off supplies at Southside Community Center, 305 S. Plain St. The organization “No Mas Lagrimas” is asking for:

*Alkaline batteries (all types)
*Dry and canned food
*Baby food
*Blankets and clothing
*Medical supplies

Contact: Ana Ortiz,

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