Maria One Month Later, Red Cross Help Continues in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico resident Marcelino Rivera Guzman, 82, says Hurricane Maria ended everything- the entire harvest is gone, and all the wooden houses in the hills… gone. (Red Cross Photo)
Teresa Rosado Ortiz, 86, says there is no comparison to what Maria did to Puerto Rico. (Red Cross Photo)
Red Cross teams are in the field in Puerto Rico every day, distributing life-sustaining food and water, and providing home visits for health and mental health needs to island residents. (Red Cross Photo)
Nestled high in the mountains of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, the old-timers in Barrio Barranca told American Red Cross volunteers they’ve never seen anything like Hurricane Maria in all their years.
“Never have we taken handouts,” Marcelino Rivera Guzman, 82, and his wife lamented as they gratefully accepted cases of water, food, peanut butter crackers and hugs. “We worked hard all our lives for everything we have, but now… well, what’s the point in even talking about it?”
Red Cross workers, however, are all trained in psychological first aid and know that “talking about it” is precisely what will help lift the weary spirits of people coping with their seventh consecutive week without running water or electricity and scant access to services other United States citizens take for granted.
“Maria ended everything- the entire harvest is gone, and all the wooden houses in the hills… gone.” Mr. Rivera’s eyes filled with tears as he lifted his gaze towards the steep mountains surrounding their home, where he often hiked with his bride of 60 years. “My grandmother lived to see 107 years,” Mr. Rivera said, “Will I live that long in these conditions? I wonder.”
“I remember Santa Clara when my daughter was just a little girl,” Carmen Lydia Montecina Rivera, 80, Mr. Rivera’s wife said, referring to the local name for Hurricane Betsy of 1958. “Santa Clara destroyed part of our home, but at least we could find food. Even Hugo wasn’t like this.” In 1989, Hurricane Hugo, like Hurricane Maria, wiped out banana and coffee crops.
Monster hurricanes leave an indelible imprint. People here name them to mark the passage of time; it’s like knowing where you were on 9/11. “There are no bananas. No plantains,” Mrs. Rivera said. Plantains, related to bananas, need to be cooked. They are a Caribbean staple prepared in endless delicious ways. Fruit tress of every kind have been decimated on the island, impacting food availability and income sources for years to come. Banana family crops will take a year to recover. Locals say that mature avocado trees will likely take five years to bear fruit again, if they survived at all as Hurricane Maria completely upended many productive trees.
“Ay, there is no comparison to what Maria did to Puerto Rico,” said Teresa Rosado Ortiz, 86, as her doting family gave her a chair in the shade near the relief distribution line. A Red Cross volunteer personally delivered a case of drinking water and boxes of food to her side.
“Do you know how to prepare the militares, grandmother?” Winnie Romeril, a Red Cross volunteer from upstate New York asked her. “Militares” (militaries) are the local name for the 2000 calorie pre-packaged meals commonly eaten by soldiers. “Yes, I know how,” she said. “You put a little water in the plastic bag and put it in the cardboard box and then it gets hot. Thank you for these supplies. Thank you.”
Red Cross volunteers make sure people know how to heat the main dish as the instructions are only printed in English. Asked about her health, Mrs. Ortiz said, “I have a bad heart.” The Red Cross volunteer winked and assured her, “No. I’m sure you have a very good heart,” which earned her a laugh.
In Puerto Rico, emergency relief efforts continue with a strong sense of urgency. Red Cross teams are in the field daily, distributing life-sustaining food and water, and providing home visits for health and mental health needs to island residents. The Red Cross team who helped the Riveras and Mrs. Ortiz recently in Barranquitas, also served 1,582 people in the communities of Maná, Cañaboncito and Lajitas.
Simultaneously that day, Red Cross teams delivered supplies to 17 other affected municipalities. Many hands truly made light work in giving out water and meals plus providing medical and legal assistance in Barranquitas, thanks to help from many, including Michael Chavez Guerra and family, the Cintrón family (“El Familión”), the Fonalledas family, Pfizer (Michael Sweitzer), Chrysler (RAM Trucks of Puerto Rico and the RAM volunteers), Samaritan’s Purse and the volunteer doctors and nurses, the group of pro-bono lawyers and all the volunteers from New York.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in late September as a Category 4 storm – the most intense hurricane to hit the U.S. territory in more than 80 years. The deadly storm caused widespread destruction. In Maria’s aftermath, countless residents facing heartbreaking personal losses and challenges from damaged infrastructure. Many in Puerto Rico still have no power, phone service or safe drinking water.
WHERE YOUR DONATIONS ARE GOING
As of October 20, the Red Cross raised $31.6 million in designated donations for the Maria relief effort. All donations earmarked for Hurricane Maria will be used to support relief and recovery efforts for this disaster. Learn more about how donations are helping in this video or in our detailed report. The following are examples of how donations are being used:
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.