Sunday, December 24, 2017

Survival in Puerto Rico

Yesterday I was in Barrio Pozas up in Ciales municipality of Puerto Rico in the Cordillera Central. I stayed with a family who had waited over a month to have solar installed - there is a shortage of installers. The day I got there their generator had broken down.

I am still crying from the stories they told me.

There is a three-year-old child who hides whenever it rains thinking the storm is coming back...

There is a 37-year-old autistic man who is afraid of the dark and would scream all night. They got him a solar light and now he is careful to charge it every day. This is his job.

There are old people who cannot leave their homes. They are risk of falling in the dark. Depression is setting in and they are saying it is better off if they just die and not be a burden.

There is one man who died after drinking the untreated water. People were getting Leptospirosis and thinking it was just the stomach flu. The hospitals could not handle it.

The daughter is a nurse. There were no doctors to be found. To get in and out of her area to her patients and to places she could communicate she had to hang off the edge of the guard rail as the road was blocked by landslides.

The husband is a Vietnam veteran. He was triggered in PTSD and felt he was back in the war. All the veterans are gathering in their support group to deal with the intense emotions.
Sheep survivors - three didn't make it
During the storm their sheep panicked. Three of them died trampled by the others. By the time the family could actually get out of the house, the corpses were already bloated.
There are young people – middle schoolers - dealing with suicidal thoughts. The social workers are trying to identify them and get them help.

Marriages are breaking up due to the stress. There is no way to retreat into electronics or television. Special needs kids have lost their routines. There was an attempted murder - suicide.

We saw a five story building that is an old folks home all full of elders. They have no power and all of them have electric stoves – they cannot cook.

One elder died because his oxygen stopped working when the power went out the day before Hurricane Maria. Because of the storm they could not take him out, and they had to put his body into a cooler and carry it across landslides.

After the eye came the strongest winds.

Most homes in the Cordillera Central were damaged
They watched houses literally explode and the pieces fly hundreds of yards away. People lost their entire second floor and are living on the first floor with tarps over that what used to be the ceiling. The water is still coming through every time it rains. Other elderly people lost their houses entirely and are now living doubled up with friends or relatives.

We saw a public housing complex that had been flooded by the river. People living there have been told to leave ... They are supposed to get section 8 vouchers but they have no place to go and will stay until someone drags them out or gives them a better place to live.
We saw a place where the bridge washed out. They had to cross the river partway so people on the other side could get the supplies and pull them up the cliff. They tried to send a doctor across but he could not make it, the terrain was so rough.

The banks have been forgiving loan payments until the end of the year. When January comes, this will end and people with no jobs will face losing their cars and homes.

When I stayed there they fed me a delicious meal of chicken and spinach salad. Later I found out this is one of the first times they have been able to get good meat and have a real meal. 
FEMA "meal"
For breakfast I had the infamous FEMA rations with the Vienna sausages and cheese and crackers. I was grateful and happy to have this.

Pozas is also one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen ... It's cooler up in the mountains! And the people some of the kindest. The way they pull together and support each other is amazing. All our communities have something to learn from them.
Every day the team from the parish are out checking on elders, bringing supplies to people. These days they need medical devices so I'll people can stay at home, construction materials, solar lights and solar generators.
Natural beauty of Ciales
The first people from outside who came to help were the Long Island National Guard - four weeks after the storm. They landed a helicopter, found out what was needed, and brought in a doctor. Now the National guard is there with humvees clearing debris, along with teams from the town. Bridges have been replaced with temporary fords. A store is open in the neighborhood so people can buy milk and other basics - and so are the bars. The Catholic chapel is still doing 5 am mass with a generator, but will move Christmas Eve services earlier so people can get home before dark.

Solar Power Kit from Clean Energy Relief
We are hoping to bring in an emergency solar kit with a fridge, WiFi, charging station, and lights that they can use at the chapel. The delivery of the kits continues to be delayed due to bottlenecks at the port.

The local installer of solar water heaters did a great job - if the roof is there, the units are still on it. Most rooftop solar PV systems survived the storm. 

With so many jobs lost and so many businesses closed, people of working age have moved away - they are saying that over 200,000 people have left Puerto Rico, mostly for Florida and New York. Some are returning, some are not.

A local coffee farm has still been supplying roasted coffee - but a few days ago their generator broke and they had to close. A farm-sized solar kit would do wonders here
A medical team (see the article in Bloomberg) will be coming to Pozas on January 13. They will be providing counseling and other medical services.


Ways to help:

Donate supplies to Puerto Rico Rises - over three million pounds of supplies being distributed across the island:

Make a tax deductible contribution to Clean Energy Relief to provide solar power kits for community centers, including refrigeration for medicine and formula, WiFi, charging station, and lights. Be sure to include "Solar Gardens" in the notes when you make your PayPal donation:

Support SGI's campaign for community driven shared renewables - policy, people, and projects:

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