Working in Puerto Rico

Leslie and I both are Reservists in a FEMA cadre called Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA – FEMA, like the military and all things bureaucratic, loves acronyms).  This cadre is specifically organized and tasked to meet with survivors immediately after a significant disaster. We register individuals for FEMA assistance, listen to their frequently harrowing stories of survival, and help them start back on their road to recovery.

These are some of the things I saw and experienced during my 5 months in Puerto Rico.

 Literally, our beach has hunger.  The storm knocked out all grocery stores, restaurants, power and water.

No tengo un techo – I don’t have a roof
Pero tengo vida – But I have life
Gracias Dios – Thank God
Words painted on a street.

Snapped concrete poles and downed power lines everywhere.
Necesitan agua – They need water.
Hay ancianos y ninos – There are elderly and children.

A lot of time was spent in rural communities in the mountains.
We needed 4×4 vehicles.

Hamlets scattered all over the mountains.
Many homes simply fell into the ocean from the cliffs.

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Finally – moved into a hotel

After about 2+ weeks or so, some semblance of order to the city was restored.  There was still no power, but all the big hotels had permanent emergency generators and they started to “sort of” open up – officially closed, but with a “nod nod, wink wink” they’d rent a room even though there was no power to the rooms, just emergency lighting in the hallways, stairwells, etc.

I got a room in a hotel on the beach which would have been fabulous for a vacation in normal times, but it had been damaged, water had damaged the drywall in the hallways, no elevators were working, there was no service, I was simply camping out but glad to be out of the convention center.  For lighting I simply set my flashlight on end, shined it on the ceiling and it was good enough to get around.

But there was no hot water and showers were COLD! In and out fast!

This was the view from my room during daylight hours…

This was after dark…

Very eerie feeling that everything was so dark. Only emergency lighting along the strip of the hotels and restaurants trying to get back into business again.

This was the drywall outside my room – I could have pulled it off…


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