When the Hispanic Federation first began receiving reports of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, the news was so disturbing I had to travel to Puerto Rico to assess the situation myself.
I grew up in Toa Alta, just west of San Juan, and experienced several hurricanes first-hand. But the scale of what I saw completely shocked me. Puerto Rico’s communities were dark and silent due to the total collapse of the power grid and telecommunications networks. Countless homes were destroyed, and millions of people needed food and clean water. Even now, a month after the hurricane hit, over one million people do not have access to safe drinking water. It's hard to fathom this reality, let alone experience it.
We were able to establish contact with some of these municipalities, but helping them required us to push aid through bottlenecks at ports, create distribution routes, and set up collection centers as quickly as possible.
We needed a breakthrough fast, and one arrived, when we were able to use our close relationships on the island to connect with a pharmacy chain manager who said we should try to connect with local food distributors to see how they might be able to help. We did just that and found out that some of these local suppliers had essential provisions in their warehouses that we could purchase and send quickly to different parts of the island.
When our team’s trucks finally reached these remote towns, we learned many had not received any prior help, or what they had received was insufficient. Some reported all they were delivered before our involvement were shipments of snacks, which is troublesome given that the residents are suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. We are proud of the help we've provided tens of thousands of families in these towns and grateful for the inroads we're making in other communities every day.
But our work is far from over. Many on the island are still so desperate for drinking water that they have broken into polluted wells at industrial waste sites. Puerto Rico is also in the rainy season and there are growing concerns about mosquitoes and illnesses like dengue, and the ability of a severely compromised health care system to care for the island’s vulnerable populations.
Frankie Miranda Senior Vice President Hispanic Federation
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