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In Puerto Rico, people rush to eat and share avocados knocked off trees by hurricane

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Hurricane Fiona pummeled Puerto Rico last weekend, many of the island's avocado trees lost all their avocados. Now across the island, people are scrambling to eat them and, just as importantly, to give them away before they rot. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: In the Santurce neighborhood of Puerto Rico's capital, a group of volunteers has set up a donation drive collecting food, water and supplies for hard-hit communities.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: A woman approaches with bags of dog and cat food.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: In gratitude, a volunteer offers her an avocado almost as big as a coconut pulled out of a sack full of them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh.

FLORIDO: The woman's face lights up as she accepts it with both hands.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Jonathan Velez Rosado directs Mochileando 100x35, the group running this donation drive.

JONATHAN VELEZ ROSADO: The superstition here is in Puerto Rico that when the avocado trees are pulled, there must be a hurricane coming. That's what our grandparents used to believe.

FLORIDO: It was something people had been talking about for weeks before this storm. The avocado trees seem to be overflowing this year - a blessing, of course. But was it a sign of trouble to come? Then Fiona came. Houses flooded. Bridges were swept away. At least two people died. The wind damaged roofs, and it knocked most of the island's avocados off their trees.

VELEZ ROSADO: And we have to take good care of them.

FLORIDO: And so now you're offering each person who brings donations...

VELEZ ROSADO: Two avocados - one for today that is ready to eat today and another for tomorrow.

FLORIDO: In the days since the storm, avocados have become a currency of community. People have been opening up their front doors to find full bags left by neighbors. Be careful on the winding mountain roads partially blocked by mudslides, but don't forget to grab some avocados from the buckets set out along the roadside.

PEDRO LUGO: Because everybody lose aguacates, you know? And all my friend in my factory - he give me one bag with 10 aguacates. I have to start giving to the people because there's so many - you know, not too many guacamole you can eat in one week, you know?

FLORIDO: Pedro Lugo lives in the town of La Paz, where the hurricane made landfall. He took me up to his roof for a clear view of his neighbor's avocado tree. As the winds picked up, he couldn't stop worrying about it. So he went into the bathroom and watched from the window.

LUGO: The tree start dancing to the side, and it start losing the aguacates, you know? And in the end, only one aguacate survive it. I think that this aguacate - in a couple of week, it cost more than $100 because that's the only aguacate survive it.

FLORIDO: He took me to meet his neighbor over the fence dividing their properties.

LUGO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: When the winds had passed, Willy Torres Martinez looked out his back window and saw all his avocados on the ground.

WILLY TORRES MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Oh, the avocados," he remembers saying. But he quickly started filling up bags and delivering them to neighbors.

TORRES MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I like to share," he said, "because when you share, you get it back twofold." Avocados have become the link for connecting with his neighbors. And after a tragedy, he said, that's the most important thing. Adrian Florido, NPR News, La Paz, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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