NEW YORK -- The 61st annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade took over Fifth Avenue in Manhattan Sunday with floats, musicians and brightly colored costumes.
Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the celebration, which started at 44th Street and continues to 79th Street.
But this year's parade has a particularly profound meaning as the island of Puerto Rico continues to recover from the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria.
"This is a year where Puerto Rico has been devastated," said Louis Maldonado, chairman of the board that oversees the parade and its affiliated events. "We need to keep that part of the conversation."
Along the parade route , people carried signs with tributes like "New York Stands with Puerto Rico," ''You will not be forgotten" and "Decolonize Puerto Rico." Many also waved Puerto Rican flags and danced as they made their way down Fifth Avenue.
Those watching the parade in person saw that in the marching contingents, including one made up of people who are on the U.S. mainland only because they were displaced from their homes on the island, he said.
The parade also honored first responders and others who stepped up to help with both emergency efforts and ongoing recovery work.
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Remembering those still struggling in Puerto Rico "makes today important but it also makes it bittersweet," said Nora Ortiz.
Ortiz, 53, of Brooklyn, and other parade-goers voiced frustration over what they said was an under-reporting of the death toll in Puerto Rico and a tepid emergency response by the administration of President Donald Trump.
A recent study from Harvard University estimated there were up to 4,600 more deaths than usual in the three months after Hurricane Maria, although some independent experts questioned the methods and the number in that study. The official federal death toll is at 64.
This year's parade comes a year after a controversial one, when the parade organization's decision to recognize Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former member of a militant group responsible for a series of bombings, led some sponsors to withdraw their support and some politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo decline to take part.
Cuomo has been an outspoken proponent of the need to help Puerto Rico after the September storm and is expected to take part in this year's event.
"People have really turned the page on everything that happened last year," Maldonado said.
He also said that, at least on the parade board's part, this year's focus on the island's recovery needs would be about the issues, and "not about the politics."
Julio Pabon led a group of demonstrators who chanted "Respect Puerto Rico" as it passed Trump Tower. They also waved flags in the direction of the luxury high-rise.
"Maria unmasked that we are a colony," said Pabon, 66, of the Bronx. "I'm just tired of the way my island has been treated."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, were among the dignitaries on hand for the event. Cuomo has been an outspoken proponent of the need to help Puerto Rico after the September storm.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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Puerto Rican Day Parade spotlights hurricane recovery efforts
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