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After Hurricane Fiona, avocados have become a currency of community in Puerto Rico

Magaly Vázquez and Pedro Lugo, with the avocados and bananas that friends have given them after Hurricane Fiona knocked much of the island's fruit off trees.
Adrian Florido
/
NPR
Magaly Vázquez and Pedro Lugo, with the avocados and bananas that friends have given them after Hurricane Fiona knocked much of the island's fruit off trees.

LAJAS, Puerto Rico — There's an old superstition in Puerto Rico that when the avocado trees are especially full of fruit, there's a hurricane coming.

This summer, the avocado trees had been bursting with fruit, so speculation had been flying for weeks. A storm was on the way.

Hurricane Fiona – which slammed the island last weekend — caused catastrophic flooding and landslides in many communities, and at least two deaths. Its 85-mph winds blew roofs off their houses. And it claimed another casualty. On much of the island, Fiona blew all the avocados off of their trees.

At a donation drive in San Juan, people who brought supplies for hard-hit communities got two avocados as a token of gratitude.
Adrian Florido / NPR
/
NPR
At a donation drive in San Juan, people who brought supplies for hard-hit communities got two avocados as a token of gratitude.

Now, in the days since the storm, people have been scrambling to eat them all – and just as importantly – to give them away, before they rot.

"We have to take good care of them," said Jonathan Velez Rosado.

In the capital, San Juan, he was helping run a donation drive collecting water, food and toiletries for affected communities. His volunteers were offering people who brought donations a token gratitude: two avocados apiece, pulled out of a sack filled with them.

Across Puerto Rico, avocados have become a currency of community this week. People have been opening their front doors to find bags full of them, left there by neighbors. Buckets filled with the fruit have been left along the sides of the winding mountain roads left partially impassible by landslides.

Puerto Ricans have been eating avocado for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With rice and beans, gazpacho, and on toast.

"At work today my colleagues gave me three bags!" said Pedro Lugo, who lives in the town of Lajas, on the island's southwest coast. "I said, 'What am I going to do with all of these? I can't eat guacamole everyday!' "

He started giving them away, including to an NPR reporter.

When Fiona's winds picked up, Lugo began to worry about his neighbor's avocado tree. He went into the bathroom and watched for hours through a small window.

"It started dancing from side to side," he said.

By the time the winds had passed, only a single avocado had survived.

"In a couple of weeks, that avocado is going to cost more than $100, because it's the only one left," he said, laughing.

His neighbor, Willy Torres Martinez, felt his heart sink when he looked out and saw more than a hundred avocados littering his back yard. But he soon started packing them into plastic bags and delivering them to his neighbors.

"I like to share," he said. "Because when you share, it comes back to you twofold."

The avocados have become the link for connecting with his neighbors in the days since the storm. After a tragedy, he said, that's the most important thing.

Ezequiel Rodriguez Andino contributed reporting.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.