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How to help Hurricane Maria victims: Where to donate, how to volunteer and more

After hitting the U.S. Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm, Hurricane Maria plowed through Puerto Rico, flooding streets, collapsing homes and leaving the entire territory without power Wednesday.

>> Read more trending news 

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosseló called Hurricane Maria the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century, if not in modern history.”

» RELATED: Hurricane Maria: Live updates

The dangerous hurricane is responsible for at least 15 deaths on the Caribbean island of Dominica alone, and, according to the National Hurricane Center, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos are expected to see a “life-threatening” storm surge of 9 to 12 feet between Thursday and early next week.

» RELATED: Where is Hurricane Maria now? Track the massive storm as it heads north

How you can help the victims of Hurricane Maria

Make monetary donations

According to the United States Agency for International Development, giving money to reputable relief agencies and nonprofits is the most effective way to help and to avoid using resources to transport or deliver donated goods.

Here are some organizations to consider giving money to:

UNICEF (emergency relief and help for children affected)

Save the Children (emergency relief and help for children affected)

ConPRmetidos (Puerto Rico-based nonprofit to benefit “immediate needs of food, shelter, water” and more)

GlobalGiving Caribbean Hurricane Maria & Irma Relief Fund (from US-based nonprofit, Global Giving)

SPCA International (help for animal rescue and care)

» RELATED: How you can help Mexico and people affected by the Mexico earthquake

Other crowdfunding campaigns:

21 US Virgin Island Relief Fund (NBA star Tim Duncan hoping to raise $5 million for his home country)

Dominica Hurricane Maria Relief Fund (bringing relief to Dominica)

Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Hurricane Relief Fund (to help families and countries rebuild after hurricanes)

Check if your employer will match your donation

Doublethedonation.com has a nifty tool that lets you enter your company name to find out whether or not your employer offers a matching gift program for donations.

Donate blood

The American Red Cross urges volunteer blood donors to give blood year-round, not only at the time of disaster. Currently, platelets and type O blood donations are especially needed, according to the organization website.

Visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to begin the donation process.

» RELATED: Disaster declared in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastates island

Donate goods

Monetary donations are preferred for most aid organizations, but refer to your local nonprofits to see if there is an additional need for goods donations.

If you’re in the Florida area, the Miami Herald has listed several donation spots for locals to bring non-perishable food, diapers, bottled water and clothing starting Friday.

» RELATED: NASA astronaut captures eerie images of Hurricane Irma’s destruction from space

Volunteer

The American Red Cross is looking to dispatch volunteers in the next few weeks to aid areas affected by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

Local residents in affected areas should use this form.

All non-local residents interested in volunteering should use this separate form.

More information about volunteer expectations and requirements is at redcross.org.

Disaster declared in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastates island

President Donald Trump on Thursday declared a federal disaster in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria brought pounding rain and punishing winds to the island, knocking out power and causing widespread flooding and landslides.

>> Read more trending news

The declaration allows for federal resources to be used for Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts.

The island is reeling after Maria made landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane. With maximum sustained winds measured at 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years.

"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press.

Videos posted on social media showed swift floodwaters and powerful winds brought to Puerto Rico by Maria.

Maria knocked out power to the entire island and its 3.4 million residents, officials said Wednesday.

Ricardo Ramos, CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN that it could be as long as six months before power is restored.

“The system has been basically destroyed,” he said.

Maria continued to churn over the Atlantic Ocean as a major Category 3 hurricane on Thursday afternoon with maximum sustained winds measured at 115 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. advisory. Officials warned that the storm, which is expected to turn to the north early Friday, could still strengthen over the next day or two.

Photos: Hurricane Maria slams Caribbean

Hurricane Maria is bearing down on the Caribbean and is set to pass over much the same area devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Florida's 10 safest cities in a hurricane

There’s really no place that’s 100 percent safe in Florida when it comes to hurricanes.

Even Orlando got hit twice in 2004 by hurricanes Charley and Frances.

>> Read more trending news

And, although Florida enjoyed a more than 10-year hurricane drought after 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, Hurricane Hermine made landfall in the Florida Panhandle in 2016. 

Still, Homeinsurance.com has ranked Florida’s cities based on their evaluation of NOAA-identified storms from 1965 to October 2014, doling out scores based on the number of storm events, number of storm-related deaths, property damage and storm-related injuries.

The top 10 safest cities in Florida during a hurricane, according to the insurance study, are:

  1. Leesburg
  2. Orlando
  3. Sanford
  4. Kissimmee
  5. Palatka
  6. Lake City
  7. Naples
  8. Ocala
  9. Gainesville
  10. Fernandina Beach

The entire ranking is below.

Read more about the Home Insurance study here.

Hurricane Maria: Airlines cap fares for flights out of affected cities

Update 1:30 p.m. Sept. 19: American Airlines and United Airlines announced that they are capping some of their fares as Hurricane Maria churns over the Caribbean.

>> Read more trending news

American Airlines said it will cap until Sept. 24 one-way, nonstop fares from airports in Antigua, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos islands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis. Fares for travel in the airline’s main cabin will be capped at $99, while premium cabin fares will be capped at $199.

United Airlines officials said the company is adding additional seats for its flights leaving Puerto Rico. The airline capped its nonstop flights in economy class at $384.

>> Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Maria: Live updates

The announcements came in response to a letter sent to nearly a dozen airliners from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, requesting that the airlines cap fees for people fleeing from Maria.

“Individuals and families should not be forced to delay or cancel their evacuation efforts because of confusion over the cost of airfare,” Nelson said.

Original report: Delta Air Lines said it is capping main cabin one-way fares at $199 for flights out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Punta Cana, Santo Domingo and Santiago in the Dominican Republic as Hurricane Maria approaches.

Atlanta-based Delta is also adding two extra flights from San Juan to Atlanta for those who want to get out of the hurricane’s path.

>> More hurricane coverage from WFTVAction News Jax and the Palm Beach Post

Delta is waiving change fees for travelers with flights booked to, from or through San Juan, Punta Cana, Santo Domingo and Santiago from Sept. 19-26.

Southwest Airlines is canceling its flights scheduled to and from San Juan for Tuesday after 6 p.m. and Wednesday, and to and from Punta Cana on Wednesday.

The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

9 weather terms you should know when preparing for a hurricane

Whenever a hurricane is poised to strike a region, there are several terms meteorologists use that might not be familiar.

>> Read more trending news

Here are common ones you should know as you keep your eye on the storm’s path: 

Feeder band

Lines or bands of low-level clouds that move (feed) into the upper region of a thunderstorm, usually from the east through south.

This term also is used in tropical meteorology to describe spiral-shaped bands of convection surrounding, and moving toward, the center of a tropical cyclone.

Squalls

When the wind speed increases to at least 16 knots and is sustained at 22 knots or more for at least one minute.

Storm surge

An abnormal rise in sea level accompanying a hurricane or other intense storm. The height is the difference between the normal level of the sea surface and the level that would have occurred in the absence of the cyclone. Storm surge is usually estimated by subtracting the normal or astronomic high tide from the observed storm tide.

>> Related: What is storm surge and why is it dangerous? 

Eye wall

An organized band or ring of clouds that surround the eye, or light-wind center, of a tropical cyclone. Eye wall and wall cloud are used synonymously.

Sustained winds

Wind speed determined by averaging observed values over a two-minute period.

Computer models

Meteorologists use computer models to figure out a storm’s path and its potential path. The models are based on typical weather patterns.

Advisory

Official information describing all tropical cyclone watches and warnings in effect along with details concerning tropical cyclone locations, intensity and movement, and precautions that should be taken.

Hurricane watch

An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are possible. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

Hurricane warning

An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with a cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance. The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.

Hulk Hogan calls Hurricane Irma victims complaining about no power, water 'crybabies'

In two since-deleted tweets, Hulk Hogan called Hurricane Irma survivors who are complaining about the loss of water and power “crybabies."

>> Hurricane Irma damage: What to do during, after a power outage

On Thursday, the professional wrestling star wrote: “No water, no power, crybabies, everyone’s complaining, these people have no clue how bad it could be. Praying for those that got hit hard, lost homes, lives, businesses, lost everything, thank you God for helping those with divine highly blessings, God speed only love.”

>> On Rare.us: Getting to know Hulk Hogan

Hogan rode out the storm at his home in Clearwater, Florida — a city on the west coast of the state. His tweets sparked a firestorm on social media, with many criticizing Hogan. While still a larger-than-life celebrity in the professional wrestling circuit, the star returned to fame a few years ago when he effectively put gossip and news website Gawker out of business.

>> More Irma coverage from WFTVAction News Jax and the Palm Beach Post

The tweets have been taken down but were captured by The Washington Post before they were deleted. Hogan has not returned requests for comment on the statements.

>> Read more trending news

Hogan also noted on Twitter that he spent Friday with linemen restoring power to Orlando, which was ravaged by Irma.

WATCH: Nurses won't let Hurricane Irma ruin birthday for 3-year-old with leukemia

A 3-year-old Florida girl nearly had her birthday celebration ruined.

>> Watch the news report here

>> Read more trending news

She was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 8, just two days before her birthday — and the day Hurricane Irma was poised to strike her home.

>> See the photos here

>> Key West suffers as rays of hope emerge after Hurricane Irma

Willow Stine, who lives in Wesley Chapel, rode out the storm with her mother at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, but because of Irma it meant no birthday celebration for Willow — or so her mother thought, according to CNN

>> On PalmBeachPost.com: Deputy calms elderly woman’s nerves during Hurricane Irma with a dance

“I was like, I don't know how much more I can take,” Willow's mother, Jennifer Stine, told CNN. “My baby's turning 3 and has cancer and on top of that, my 4-year-old daughter and husband are an hour and a half away in a hurricane. I'm just trying to process all this.” 

>> Watch the video clip here

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

But then nurses from the hospital surprised Willow with a birthday party. They wrapped up newly donated toys and got Willow a cake, CNN reported. 

>> More Irma coverage from WFTVAction News Jax and the Palm Beach Post

“The nurses were amazing. They're so wonderful,” Stine told CNN. “[Willow] got to be a toddler again.”

>> On PalmBeachPost.com: Tim Tebow visits those impacted by Hurricane Irma

Read more at CNN

Key West suffers as rays of hope emerge after Hurricane Irma

After 25 years in Key West, Jim Gilleran knows residents need a cold beer, a hot meal and a place to reconnect after a hurricane.

While most bars and restaurants remain shuttered on Duval Street, Gilleran opened his 801 Bar hours after Hurricane Irma smashed past the island. He’s kept his generator operating since, serving nearly 700-800 free meals a day.

>> Read more trending news

On Thursday, the bar stools were packed with sweaty, unshowered, hungry residents anticipating a steak lunch while staff gave out bags of donated food and toiletries.

“Honey, you need anything?” asked a worker carrying a basket of facial wipes, toothpaste and tampons.

“My father taught me to take care of myself and my family so I can take care of my community,” Gilleran said on the day civilization slowly crept back into Key West, or at least as much as this idiosyncratic city at the very southern tip of the U.S. will allow.

Read the full story on Irma’s aftermath in Key West on MyPalmBeachPost.com

After Irma: Alleged Secret Service impostor arrested trying to sneak onto wealthy Florida island

A man who attempted to gain access to Palm Beach, Florida, by telling police he worked for the U.S. Secret Service and needed access to protect a diplomat was arrested Tuesday evening at a 24-hour police checkpoint, according to a Palm Beach police report. The security checkpoint was put in place in the wake of Hurricane Irma to control access to the wealthy island.

>> Read more trending news

Luan Gabriel Da Rocha Cruz, 22, was arrested at 7:42 p.m. on a federal charge of impersonating a Secret Service officer, according to the report. Town police assisted the West Palm Beach-based federal officers who made the arrest after determining Cruz did not work for the Secret Service.

Officers suspected Cruz was entering the island with criminal intent, and police acted appropriately, Palm Beach Director of Public Safety Kirk Blouin said today.

“We suspected he wanted to commit burglary,” Blouin said.

Cruz was driving a gray BMW with a New York City license plate from West Palm Beach to Palm Beach when he was stopped — for the second time that evening — at the checkpoint on the Royal Park Bridge.

“Cruz advised that he was with the U.S. Secret Service and needed to gain access to the island to report for his assignment to protect a diplomat” at an address on the North End, Palm Beach police Officer Steven O’Leary wrote in his report.

“Cruz appeared to be very nervous and would not make eye contact when I was asking him questions,” O’Leary wrote.

Before he was detained by police just east of the bridge, Cruz displayed “a U.S. Secret Service badge that was oddly placed in a brown leather wallet with a bright blue interior that did not contain a slot for the badge,” the report said.

O’Leary’s report said he escorted Cruz through the checkpoint for questioning and saw him lock the badge in his glove box. Cruz was talking on a cellphone during the encounter and told O’Leary he was working “undercover,” the report said. He also “kept reaching for something at the front left door panel of the vehicle,” according to the report. At that point, Cruz was asked to exit the car, and police contacted the West Palm Beach division of the Secret Service.

The role of the Secret Service in Palm Beach earned international attention after the election of President Donald Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago club serves as his winter White House.

Police determined that the North Lake Way address Cruz gave them was a house without electricity that had hurricane shutters in place, the report said. Officers were unable to contact its owner.

Cruz had already attempted to enter town in the same car at the same checkpoint about 25 minutes earlier, according to the report. At that time, Cruz was stopped by O’Leary and told him “he was working security” at the same North End address, but did not show him a badge, O’Leary’s report said. At that time, Cruz couldn’t provide proof of employment in Palm Beach or a voluntary town identification card, so O’Leary requested Cruz make a U-turn and return to West Palm Beach, which he did, according to the report.

According to his report, O’Leary was relieved of his post shortly afterward but noticed when Cruz returned to the checkpoint less than a half-hour later. O’Leary walked over to assist the officer questioning Cruz, which ultimately led to the suspect being detained and arrested, the report said. He is being held in Palm Beach County jail.

Under a long-established policy following hurricanes, police have tightly controlled access to the island via checkpoints at three bridges and on the coastal road leading into Palm Beach. The town was swept by the outer bands of Hurricane Irma Sunday afternoon and into Monday morning.

Much of the town was still without electricity when the arrest was made, and town officials have closely restricted access to the island because security systems at many homes and businesses have been inoperable.

Palm Beach is home to many affluent households. A number of former U.S. ambassadors and other diplomats have homes on the island. And more than 30 billionaires on Forbes’ latest list have residences or own other property on the 16-mile barrier island.

Massive Hurricane Irma, which barrelled up the state’s west coast Sunday, damaged landscaping but did little if any major structural damage to homes and buildings in Palm Beach. The winds that hit the town were less than hurricane strength, forecasters said.

The BMW wasn’t registered to Cruz but to a woman with a West Palm Beach address, records show.

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