Puerto Rico needs more than prayers

Liz Varmecky, Staff Writer

Less than three weeks ago I rode out Hurricane Irma in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, the oldest city in the United States. I planned this trip for months to celebrate my husband’s fortieth birthday. I watched on television as the focus of weather reports started to shift from Hurricane Harvey and the massive flooding in Texas to Irma, which was forming off the coast of Africa. Coming from that distance the storm could hit anywhere. As my husband and I were making our last-minute preparations, I checked Puerto Rico’s recent storm history and it looked like many storms skirted the island for one reason or another.

I looked back on my days spent in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Irma while I follow the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Dams are failing to cause mass evacuations. Rivers run through streets blocking traffic. Wooden structures are decimated leaving much homeless in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Less than 48 hours after we arrived on the island we attempted to leave. It was too late because our discount airline wasn’t scheduling additional flights. About twelve hours before the storm arrived, the projections showed Irma going north and skimming the north coast of Puerto Rico. I was lucky. Irma could have been Maria, except as a category five hurricane.

Hurricane Maria disabled and dismantled cell towers, leaving most of the island without cellular service, even if individuals are lucky enough to have generators. Lines for gas to power generators are long and shortages are inevitable. Most Puerto Ricans are dependent on electricity to pump water. Without electricity, they are cut off from most communication, air conditioning and access to running and potable water.

I experienced this on a small scale during Irma. I had no electricity for five days but I had access to locations with generators. I had no data service for about 36 hours, but I had access to WiFi. I had spotty cell service for a day, but texts were getting through. I had no running water for two days, but I had plenty of water stored and bottled. I lived without air-conditioning in the tropics, but for a short period of time.

After Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Ricans will endure much worse for months. The wind speeds experienced in Old San Juan during Irma were equivalent to a category one hurricane. Preparing for the storm, watching the winds wax and wane and living five days in Puerto Rico during the recovery process was the greatest adventure of my life.

For those looking to help Casa Puertorriqueña (1237 North California) will be collecting donations indefinitely to send to Puerto Rico. Donations can be dropped off either at the main Casa Puertorriqueña or their larger collection site at 1864 North LeClaire. Someone will be available at the LeClaire site Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. or at the main site every day from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. They are also seeking volunteers to help process donations.

The most called for donations are flashlights, batteries, lanterns, battery operated fans, canned goods, baby food, diapers, bottled water, personal hygiene products and empty boxed for shipping. If you are interested please call (312) 647-4108 or (773) 697-4544.

See the full narrative of my experience with Hurricane Irma in the next edition of Que Ondee Sola Magazine.