04 Jan A Lingering Nightmare: How We’re Pushing Disaster Recovery Efforts in Still-Dark Puerto Rico
It’s been over 100 days since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and the island nation is still in crisis mode.
The Category 5 storm knocked out power to 100 percent of the 3.4 million people on the U.S. territory when it made landfall on September 20. Three months later, the power supply hovers at 65 percent of capacity. The local economy is in shambles without the tourism that sustained much of it.
The road to recovery is being hampered by damaged infrastructure that was already outdated and poorly maintained prior to the hurricane, and a severe lack of supplies, including reliable generators and building materials. Almost 50,000 power poles need to be repaired or replaced.
“The terminals at the airport are still not working,” recalled Tiffany Everett, Good360’s Senior Director of Disaster Recovery, having just returned from a week-long stay in Puerto Rico. “You leave town, and none of the street lights are working. No stop lights, no signals. It’s just a very different world.”
Everett visited the island in mid-December as part of our ongoing relief effort for Puerto Rico. Her mission was to come away with a much better understanding of the needs on the ground, as well as to strengthen our relationships with various relief organizations operating in the territory, including the Salvation Army, Crisis Response International, Niños de Nueva Esperanza (Children of New Hope), and the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico community center.
In addition, we have been in close communication with the local leadership of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) and FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaisons.
As always, we have sought to improve collaboration across public, private, and non-profit sectors, looking for opportunities to activate our network of partnerships. We have secured donations from a variety of companies, including Hasbro, Home Depot, CVS, Sheppard, Century, Citizen Watch, NicePak, Happy Family Brands, Cocoon by Tempur Sealy, and Power Panel.
From member companies of the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, we have also obtained two pallets of solar lights, 200 solar-powered lanterns, 460 water filters, and solar-powered generators and water heaters. These solar-powered supplies will be critically important to the recovery effort in Puerto Rico, especially considering the shaky electrical grid. (The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now says some parts of the island will go without power for eight months.)
But first, we need to get these materials to where they will be most needed.
For everyone working and living on the island right now, the logistical challenges are immense. Many roads and bridges were washed away in the hurricane’s path, and haven’t been repaired.
“The thing that challenges every mission that we’re doing here has been the logistics, the materials, just the physics of getting here,” Gen. Diana M. Holland, commander of the South Atlantic Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, told The New York Times.
Driving through the mountains to Dos Bocas Lake, a large man-made reservoir where families once enjoyed ferry rides and ate at lakeside restaurants, Everett encountered “entire pieces of road falling off the side.”
The intense rain from the hurricane had swelled the lake, forcing authorities to open its dam and unleash a 40-foot wall of water. The flood waters damaged communities all downstream.
“We drove over a bridge and it looked like a big utility truck had smashed up all of the asphalt,” Everett said. “The water had actually lifted off top layer of the asphalt on the bridge, and it was just dirt. Driving down this road, you could also see big empty patches on the mountainside where mudslides had been triggered, sometimes completely obstructing traffic.”
Many of these rural communities are just barely hanging on. The Salvation Army has had to bring in daily supplies of food and water to many of the hardest-hit areas. Many families are without work because thousands of stores and restaurants have closed, and many business owners have fled to the U.S. mainland, closing up shop in the process.
More than 100,000 people have left to go live with relatives or friends on the mainland.
“The infrastructure of the local economy has been totally disrupted,” Everett said. “You have one person that owns a warehouse or a restaurant who has left the island, so you have 50 employees who are no longer working. These 50 people represent 50 families. It’s just a devastating ripple effect.”
To support its long-term recovery, Puerto Rico is in desperate need of materials to rebuild homes, roads, businesses, and the electrical grid. An estimated half million homes were lost, and another 75,000 need new roofs. But since the territory is an island, getting supplies isn’t as easy as driving a caravan of semi-trucks there.
We have secured a reliable warehouse partner on the island, and have been able to bring in two 40-foot shipping containers worth of donated goods.
“We are filling in gaps that would not be met if not for these in-kind donations,” Everett said.
The lasting effects of Hurricane Maria’s devastation could literally span generations, she said. That’s why we see our participation in the island’s long-term recovery so far as only the beginning of a very long journey. With the immediate dangers passed, what Puerto Rico needs now is a highly collaborative, multi-pronged rebuilding effort — the kind of disaster recovery approach that we have long championed.
If you are a nonprofit or agency doing recovery work in Puerto Rico and would like to partner with Good360 for donated goods, please contact Tiffany Everett at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a company with in-kind donations that you believe could benefit Puerto Rico’s recovery, please contact Jim Alvey at email@example.com.