CITY HALL — Mayor Rahm Emanuel Monday said Chicago would invite "tens of thousands" of Puerto Ricans left without food, water, clothing or shelter after Hurricane Maria all but destroyed the island to move to the city.
Emanuel, flanked by dozens of Latino aldermen and city officials along with U.S. Rep Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), said city officials had begun planning a sustained effort to help victims of the hurricane find new homes in Chicago.
"Chicago, in my view, will be living up to what it means to be a sanctuary city," Emanuel said, declining to say precisely how many Puerto Ricans he expected to move to Chicago in the wake of what he said was a disaster caused by "climate change."
About 1,600 Puerto Ricans already have made their way to Chicago since the hurricane made landfall on Sept. 20, said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, executive director of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
"This is not going to be a one-week, one-month or even a one-year effort," Emanuel said. "It is going to to take a sustained effort from all of us."
Twenty-three members of the Chicago Fire Department will travel to Puerto Rico Wednesday with defibrillators, stretchers, communications equipment and other supplies. The delegation will spend 10 days on the island and provide an on-the-ground assessment of resources needed, officials said.
Chicago will welcome Puerto Ricans fleeing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria as residents of New Orleans were welcomed by Houston, Emanuel said.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the City Council's Latino Caucus, said he expected the city's Puerto Rican population of about 100,000 people to double in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Gutiérrez, who just returned from Puerto Rico where he blasted the response of the federal government and President Donald Trump's angry reaction on Twitter, said travel from the coastal region of the island to its mountainous, rural interior was all but impossible.
The first supplies to reach Puerto Rico were food, water and baby formula donated by Chicago, Gutiérrez said.
That "speaks volumes" about Chicago's commitment to helping those battered by the hurricane, Emanuel said.
Emanuel called the federal government's response to Hurricane Maria as "totally inadequate, and I'm being gentle with my criticism of it."
Gutiérrez praised Emanuel for being a "chief executive who takes phone calls and gets things done within a half an hour," implicitly criticizing Trump, of whom he has been harshly critical on a number of issues.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated through a city website that includes a list of verified charities and organizations helping those suffering in Puerto Rico and in Mexico, where a massive earthquake struck.