From hopeless, to hope, to peace…
On Wednesday September 20, 2017 Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, cellular service had already been impacted and reaching the island by phone was impossible. The Tuesday before the hurricane hit I was able to reach my mother in Puerto Rico and told her to be save, that I was thinking of her and the rest of the family.
As the hurricane hit the island I became an emotional wreck, not knowing how my family was doing, I depended on TV news, social media and Zello to get updates without luck. Friends reached out to me to see how I was doing and to know if I had heard any news. For several days I could not sleep, focus and broke down in tears fearing the worst. I was feeling hopeless not being able to do a thing but pray for good news. I wanted to hear my parents voice.
On September 22, 2017 at 1:12 PM, I get a very crackling cell call, very hard to understand, from my niece in Puerto Rico. I immediately broke down and told her how good it felt to hear her voice and asked about my parents. She assured me that everyone was OK, but that Puerto Rico was devastated, and they need help. We talked for about 3 minutes, before we lost connection. I immediately called my wife and gave her the good news. A huge cloud had been lifted. Later that day at 4:35 PM, I received another crackling cell call, this time my mother. I became overwhelmed with emotions hearing her voice. She assured me they were OK, but that the devastation was too much, and it will take months to recover. We spoke for 2-3 minutes before we lost connection. Communications was and unreliable and I had to wait until my parents called for updates.
For days after my mother’s call I depended on social media and TV news to get updates on the status of Puerto Rico. It hurt to take a hot shower knowing my parents did not have running water, it hurt to eat a meal knowing that my parents were limited to what they could eat, it hurt to watch TV or turn on a light knowing my parents were without electricity, everything hurt. My daily activities were consumed by thoughts of what I could do and what my parents were not able to.
Friends and family noticed my worries and offered to help. My community came together and held a 2-day food drive showing an amazing out-pour of support and donations. Team Rubicon deployed a Recon Team and launched Operation Coqui Calling. I was so excited to see my Clay Hunt Fellow friend Michael Lloyd get deployed to Puerto Rico to help with much needed chainsaw operations. Knowing that Michael was traveling to Puerto Rico to help my beautiful island was awesome. Knowing that my friends with Team Rubicon were getting ready to get dirty and help my island felt good.
Over the weeks I tried to get flights to Puerto Rico without luck, but my persistence paid off and I was finally able to get a flight on Oct 17. Traveling to Puerto Rico and being with my parents was extremely important to them and me.
The day I was to fly to Puerto Rico my emotions were running high, I knew it was going to be a long day with multiple flights. I was worried that my belongings and boxes could get lost. I had a chainsaw, a generator, boxes of batteries, flashlights, and lots of donated items for my parents.
Once I got there I immediately noticed the devastation and emotions kicked in. I had never seen Puerto Rico in such state of devastation in my life. As soon as I saw my parents, I gave them the biggest hug ever and my sense of hopelessness was lifted. For 4 days I helped my parents remove down trees from their roof, move debris to the curb and help them setup a generator for power. The ability to have a generator running proved to be priceless, they were able to run a freezer and other appliances throughout there home. I was happy to see that my parents and family were OK, that their spirits were up regardless of the inconvenience caused by Hurricane Maria. They were managing life and were happy that everyone in the family had survived.
For other Puertoricans, life was very difficult, they lost their homes, family members and were only able to evacuate with what they had on.
Knowing that Team Rubicon was in Puerto Rico helping clear water canals, clearing trees off power lines and providing medical services made me feel proud to be a member. I knew they were helping my home “the enchanted island” Puerto Rico, and that gave me lots of hope, knowing that my island will soon recover.
It was time to return home. It was difficult to leave my parents, but I knew they were healthy and doing OK. I was leaving without the anxiety and hopelessness I had experienced. As I prepared to leave, and waited at the airport, I saw several Team Rubicon members getting off planes and arriving for Operation Coqui Calling. Inside I was thankful and proud to be a member, on the other hand I was jealous that it wasn’t me getting off the plane for Operation Coqui Calling.
While at the airport I never would of thought that I would be bumping into my buddy and Clay Hunt Fellow Michael, who was getting ready to go home after 3 weeks in Puerto Rico. We hugged and talked for a while,
After my initial visit, I traveled to Puerto Rico several more times, but as months went by hope seem far. The island was still devastated, homes without roofs, road access limited, cell service sporadic and over 60% of the island was still without power.
I was able to coordinate additional trips with Team Rubicon and start helping the development of capacity and resiliency in the island. I made sure my parents generator and immediate needs were taken care as well. During my second trip I was able to meet and help organize members that lived on the island and start the process of developing leadership.
As I continue my travels Puerto Rico. I was able to get Team Rubicon Northeast Deputy Director, John Connors to travel with me and meet the new leaders, provide support and empowerment, the benefit of his visit was priceless. The team was ready, in just a couple of months they had membership, Core Ops and Sawyer I training. Membership continues to grow and capacity and resiliency is exploding.
But, several miles away from the energy of this great team were my parents, still without power.
Team Rubicon, National had made a commitment to Puerto Rico, and that was to help as many needed families repair their roofs. My good friend Michael, returned to Puerto Rico lead this charge of putting together a cadre of contractors and local workers to identify homes and begin repairing roofs.
Knowing that things were getting done, I needed one more piece to happen, for my parents to get power. February 19, five months after Maria struck the island my parents got power. This photo speaks volume of the joy and peace it brought.
Team Rubicon continues to repair roofs in Puerto Rico, to my delight so me of the repairs have happened in my hometown.