On the eve of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, New Yorkers flocked to East Harlem to show their support.

Among them was Carmen Cruz, who founded the Silent Procession for Puerto Rico four years ago, after the storm devastated the island.

What You Need To Know

  • Puerto Ricans are still recovering from Hurricane Maria as they battle more natural disasters

  • More than 3,000 people were killed during the category five storm in September 2017

  • Organizers say Puerto Ricans can achieve equality through self-determination

"There are people who are still living with blue tarps, no roofs, contaminated water," said Cruz.

The category five storm made landfall on September 20, 2017. It devastated the island, killing more than 3,000 people across the Caribbean. Cruz says the pandemic has only made the situation more dire.

"We've gotten hit by four major natural disasters and on top of that, COVID-19. So our recovery has been made a whole lot more difficult because the other disasters the nation has had to endure,” Cruz said.

The significance of Puerto Rico’s recovery is not lost on Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin.

"It could have been us. By the way it was us. Hurricane Ida came here,” Benjamin said.

More than 40 people were killed in the tri-state area and some 150,000 people lost power. And as New York continues to get slammed by severe storms, Benjamin said it's important to stand in solidarity with the Puerto Rican people.

"New York State will continue to support the Puerto Rican community, we will continue to support Puerto Ricans on the mainland and here,” Benjamin said.

It’s a goal shared by Cruz, who says there’s only one way for Puerto Ricans to achieve equality.

"Puerto Rico really needs to be decolonized and to make a decision in terms of self-determination,” Cruz said.

Cruz said that can be achieved through events like this as she continues to promote education and spread awareness.

"I wanted to stand up as a Puerto Rican woman and make the Puerto Rican voice be heard through silence because silence speaks louder than words,” Cruz said.