More than six months after Hurricane Maria’s high winds and torrential rainfall devastated Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and islands throughout the Caribbean, the American Red Cross continues to provide life-sustaining support for people with urgent needs. In Maria’s wake, thousands of hurricane survivors, particularly in more isolated communities, face long-term challenges brought about by severe storm damage to homes and infrastructure—including lack of power and clean water.
Using the RC View data collection system, Red Cross volunteers and employees have been able to assess damage, identify unmet needs and target communities across Puerto Rico where additional support is required. We have delivered vital relief items like drinking water, bulk food items and cleanup supplies, as well as tarps to help shelter families with damaged or destroyed roofs.
We also worked to help survivors cope with day-to-day difficulties caused by the destruction of much of the island’s power grid. For example, water pumps aren’t functioning in many communities with ongoing power outages, leaving thousands of residents without access to safe drinking water. Red Cross disaster workers traveled throughout Puerto Rico, supplying water filters to these heavily impacted areas and training people on how to purify the water they are drawing from wells, streams and rivers.
In addition, the Red Cross is providing critical health and mental health services for people dealing with ongoing medical needs that were further complicated by damage to the health care infrastructure, as well as those suffering from heartbreaking loss. Many families found themselves separated or isolated after Hurricane Maria, either because the roads were blocked or because communications were not working. This isolation particularly affected the families who lost a loved one. To help, the Red Cross is offering emotional, spiritual and financial support to those grieving families, through our Integrated Care and Condolence Team (ICCT).
Katira Álvarez, a member of the ICCT, has been visiting, listening to and comforting bereaved families following Hurricane Maria. “Many of the people who have lost a loved one,” she says, “tell us that this is the first time they can talk about it, as their relatives and friends are still unaware. I let them know that the Red Cross is a witness, that we care about what they have gone through.”
Others, like Daisy Morel from Carolina, a municipality just east of San Juan, are coping with the stress of long-term displacement. With her home uninhabitable due to the storm, Daisy was still living in a shelter in Canóvanas at the beginning of 2018. She was happy to see the Red Cross Spiritual Care and Mental Health Team visit. As soon as chaplain Leonardo Lugo arrived, she embraced him with strength.
While she waited for a permanent home, Daisy found ways to cope with her fears. “I have a garden here,” she revealed. “I planted tomatoes, melons and yautia, to entertain my mind,” she said. “I planted flowers, for there were no flowers here. I talk to my plants, I touch them. After the hurricane, I told my plants: ‘Now they must get very pretty, because...the hurricane is gone.’”
Six months after Maria devastated parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the Red Cross and our partners are providing ongoing relief and recovery assistance to affected residents. For many, the road to recovery will be long and difficult, but the Red Cross is committed to standing with hurricane survivors in the months and years ahead.
In Puerto Rico, families face unique recovery challenges due to long-term loss of access to power and clean water. While we continue to deliver relief supplies, the Red Cross is developing recovery plans to assist with the most urgent needs of hurricane survivors—including access to power, access to clean water, community health needs and improving individual and community resilience against future crises.
As recovery work gets underway, Red Cross planning is focusing on several school- and community-based efforts. Proposed initiatives include supporting the installation of solar power systems to help schools better serve as shelters during emergencies and to power medical and assistive equipment. We also plan to support installation of water purification systems for schools and homes, as well as water hygiene education taught by Red Cross or partner instructors.
As part of community health recovery efforts, the Red Cross may support the delivery of health and mental health education and services at schools, as well as at primary community health centers. In addition, we will work to improve individual and community resilience by providing disaster preparedness education programs, microgrants for local farmers and support for the training of local workers to install and maintain solar power systems.