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All I Want for Christmas Is Normal
All, Two months after Maria, we are struggling mightily to get the island up and running. At this writing, about 90 percent have water. Some 40-50 percent of the populace have on-again and off-again power-company-supplied electricity. About 75 percent of cell phones have limited service access, and 50 percent plus probably have limited internet access. There is still vegetative and property damage debris everywhere. It's not that nobody is picking it up; it is that the quantity is so astronomical. We still have fallen trees and leaning poles, hanging cables of all varieties, collapsed buildings, homes, roofs everywhere. Perhaps 10 percent of still-standing traffic signals and streetlights are working.
The docks are now processing 1,500 containers a day, which is the same amount as pre-storm. The problem is that we are still seriously backed up. We need to be processing twice that amount with all the relief and repair goods that are arriving. It is estimated that 500,000 standby and emergency generators have been put in service in homes and businesses.
Blame for the slow recovery can be passed around all day long, but the reality is that the enormity and ferocity of the storm and where it happened are the major culprits. Beyond that is the ineptness of both local and federal governments. Governments are not efficient no matter where you find them. Our problem is further complicated by the fiscal crisis (bankruptcy) that was crippling the island before the storm hit. We have and have had no money to pay for anything. Four million American citizens must now depend on begging for handouts that must be approved by Congress. The electrical and highway grids were in terrible condition before Irma and Maria. We had no funds to maintain either. So now we go begging and the subsequent approvals or denials require weeks. Only after successful begging and funds dispersal item-by-item, drop-by-drop, we repair. Then we go back and start that process over and over. With enterprise crippled, no tax revenues come in.
We are getting a really hard lesson from Congress on what Banana Republic leadership and second-class American citizenship are all about. What is happening to us is something akin to Katrina on a much grander scale. One of the relief workers I met from New Jersey told me that in his state there would have been a revolution by now. FEMA has stated that they cannot get out of emergency mode to get into recovery mode.
We have been advancing nonetheless--just at what seems to be a snail's pace. However, progress is made daily. Those of us who have home power back feel guilty around those who do not and that is most everybody. My office is still on generator power and wireless internet; no landline restoration yet. We have contributed donated water and funds for food stuffs to multiple relief efforts headed by church groups in hard-hit island communities. This week, we will be focusing on coordination with the AGC Community Assistance group headed by Flory. Focus will be on elderly homes, the Children's Hospital, the disabled, and orphanages. I hope to send photos soon of some of those efforts.
In closing, Christmas here is normally a really big deal, and this year it is going to be something really different. The eternal optimism and amazing predisposition to happiness of the Puerto Rican people will prevail, I am positive. The celebrations will happen for sure with whatever is available, where available, and there will be a lot fewer lights. Let us all hope and pray that the new Normal is as close to the old Normal as the circumstances and situation will allow. We will all celebrate Thanksgiving this week, and it is a special one with lots to be thankful for. We are alive, recovering, helping others, rebuilding with lots and lots to rebuild, and looking forward to the day that we can say that we are back to NORMAL.
Happy Thanksgiving and good evening to all.
Steve & Flory
Update from PCCA Past President Steve Spears, November 1, 2017
Fighting Daily to Recover
All, I will try to highlight first all those things that are getting better. First, the supply chain for foodstuffs is much better. Commercial centers have been targeted for power restoration, and that allows the associated commercial establishments the opportunity to reopen. Second, more than 75 percent of hospitals are back on the power grid or have FEMA-supplied generators, and that alleviates the problem with generators sucking up all the diesel supply.
Also with that, aid for the chronically ill and aging is somewhat improved. Third, more small businesses are reopening at least on partial schedules. Those that are electrical energy intensive generally remain closed. Fourth, remedial work for road clearing is pretty much done, and excluding landslides and bridge washouts, most all areas now accessible by land so the need for helicopter supplies is diminished. Fifth, schools and government offices are reopened on limited schedules. Sixth, police are now available at rush hour only to direct traffic at intersections in a city of 3 million that has only 30 percent of power on. Seventh, lines at gas stations, ATMs, banks, megastores, etc., have gone way down or disappeared. However, the lines continue at the unemployment and FEMA relief offices. Eighth, communications are still difficult but much improved. Internet access is probably around 50+ percent in San Juan and 25 percent on the island. Calls and texts are available for more than 75 percent in San Juan and probably 40+ percent on the island. Like in the early days of cell service, you move to where the signal is, and landlines generally work where power is available.
However, life is still FAR from normal. We are learning to live with less, accept the inconveniences, and try daily to better our circumstances. Our major challenges remain in energy, clean water, sewage, and disposal of dead vegetation. It is estimated that we have 6 to 7 million cubic yards of dead trees that remain deposited along roadsides, homes, and highways. The only practical solution is "thermal reduction" burning, as compost and chipping are not practical solutions given the size of the problem. Migration is continuing to be a solution for the old, the working young, and middle-aged folks who are out of work. It is estimated that more than 5,000 small businesses will not reopen. That leaves at least 20,000 people unemployed and 80,000 without a breadwinner to provide. The supply chain difficulties are driving up the cost of nearly all goods. Less work and more costs have a negative solution. Crime has become a major issue as the interruption in the drug supply chain has caused gang wars for control. It costs more to buy less, causing robbery to be more prevalent and collateral damage results in the population.
So in closing, Flory and I will be distributing relief items this week to worthy charitable institutions, senior homes, and churches in order to do our part. Friends and associates have been very generous in sending money, and we will use those funds judiciously to try to do the most we can with them. We will take photos to distribute, and we hope those of you who contributed will feel good about helping Puerto Rico get back on its feet. I will leave you with this: In Puerto Rico they revere their boxing champions, and none more than those who get floored and get up off the deck to then win their fight. That is where the proud working class Puerto Ricans are today. They have gotten off the floor where Maria left them, and they are fighting daily to improve their lives and to help their island recover.
Your continued prayers are welcomed and wanted. Positive thoughts sent out into the universe are also gladly accepted.
Update from PCCA Past President Steve Spears, October 18
Four Weeks In — Post-Maria Update
All, Signs of progress can be seen; that is the good news. Lines at gas stations are short, lines at ATMs are short, and more small businesses are finding overpriced generators and opening their doors. I actually found a restaurant the other day that accepted credit cards! Bank branches are opening four hours a day. Private schools are reopening on a limited schedule and most public schools will reopen on limited schedules next week. Most government agencies are finding their way to restart on limited schedules. (So bureaucrats who do little or nothing will at least have to appear at their desks to get paid instead of sitting home and getting paid.) Lines at superstores are shorter, and stock items are increasing.
The enormous backlog of trailers full of relief supplies and other supplies at the docks remains, however. FEMA has set up drop zones in the cut-off mountain towns, and supplies are arriving to them via military helicopters. A hospital ship has arrived and is taking referral patients, and field hospitals are deployed in multiple towns by FEMA and the military.
At long last, FEMA roofs are appearing to cover 250,000 homes without roofs. Some 50,000 homes were destroyed by Maria and are being demolished as unsalvageable.
Somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the populace have water service back on at their homes on alternating schedules. Somewhere around 15 percent, depending on the day, have electrical power service. In San Juan, 50 percent have cellular phone and text service. Internet is back up in the Metro for 25 percent or so intermittently. On the island, cell service is available in the most populated zones only.
The bad news is that old folks, super seniors, most of whom refuse to leave, are dropping dead daily. The heat and hardships are causing their demise due to the lack of medications and treatment for the chronic conditions of the aging. FEMA has supplied refrigerated morgues to stack them in like cordwood, as mortuaries are not yet operating except in San Juan.
A consequence or coincidence of the storm has been nearly daily heavy rains causing extreme flooding. With that comes the threat and reality of water-borne illnesses. Cholera, dengue, leptospirosis, zika, etc., all now become threats to the public health as they procreate in the poorest and hardest hit communities and spread from there.
Not sure if it is good or bad, but more than 60,000 people have left the island, and another 150,000 are predicted to leave by Christmas/year end. On a personal level, I believe that if someone has the capacity to leave and is not involved in or vital to the recovery effort, they should leave. But that is just my opinion. The extreme closeness of Latin families creates a mentality of staying to suffer together and care for each other. I believe that they should all go to Orlando or NYC and stay with family there, but they do not listen to me.
The roads are open, but they are a mess. Bridges damaged by the storm or floods have major thoroughfares closed, and massive gridlock happens daily as with no power, traffic signals if they exist (most were blown down) do not work, and police are chasing criminals who are stealing generators and boosting cash businesses.
More good news. The Jacksonville Electric Authority landed about 20 crews, and they were a sight for sore eyes as getting power back on line is just not happening. At home things are okay. We have a generator that is hanging in so we have lights and TV at night. We eat well and have refrigeration so we are getting by. Flory remains committed to her family and helping them. She is also helping in community-aide activities and looking after and in on aging friends. I am headfirst into mitigation and rebuilding work and professional contracting association activities trying to help in recovery efforts. So prayers and happy thoughts sent into the universe and monetary aide are still needed in Puerto Rico, big time. So do not forget us. We will be a long, long time digging out of this one.
Steve & Flory
Update from PCCA Past President Steve Spears, September 27
Pa'lante Puerto Rico
It was about this time one week ago today that the first real rain and wind started to come in. We were as prepared for this storm as we had ever been prepared for any previous hurricane. What we were not prepared for was that it was not "any previous hurricane." This one, 24 hours later, we would recognize as the Mother of them all.
The island today has been laid bare. Looks like a nuclear winter. Mostly bent or broken and all-bare trees. You see areas and homes from the roadways you had driven past for years and did not know existed. Looks like a flamethrower had been taken to the landscape. What is more disconcerting is that we get to see the best and the worst of human behaviors. People valiantly rising against the elements, odds and obstacles. Others taking advantage to loot and steal in the post storm chaos. The loss of property is replaceable; human dignity I am not so sure.
The inability of government to deal with the logistics of 3.5 million people with out power, water and communication inside a 12-hour period is at first understandable yet equally upsetting. It bodes back to Katrina. The supply chain just cannot get ahead of the need. No one has ever practiced for one like this.
I am incredibly proud of my workforce, who have literally machete chopped their paths out of their battered homes to find their way to work. And then they daily contribute their all to opening roadways, fixing comm and electrical lines. We go forward realizing that this is not over. It just began. It will be months of suffering and years in rebuilding. We will have work and that is wonderful. However, putting the pieces back of the fractured societal network will take just as long.
A visionary Puerto Rican man coined the phrase "manos y mentes a la obra" in the 1950s. Hands and minds to the work to be done. It is time to revalidate Teodoro Moscoso's vision of what we can be and will be post Maria.
Steve & Flory Spears Bonneville Contracting & Technology Group, Inc.
Hato Rey, Puerto Rico
Message from PCCA Past President Steve Spears:
Pa'lante Puerto Rico
"Hurricanes are a part of life in the Caribbean and Maria was the Mother of all those I have witnessed. Hugo, George, Ivan, Lenny, Marilyn all came short of Maria. Property destruction of an unparalleled proportion." Those words from Bonneville Contracting & Technology Group's Steve Spears who contacted us to let us know of their status.
"An enormous amount of people just went from poor to destitute and desperate. Donations to the American Red Cross by anyone wishing to help would be a great way to start. They do an amazing job.
"Today we started rebuilding PR. That task could take substantial time and big dollars.Power will be out for months. Hopefully some of our PCCA friends will help rebuild those overhead tower lines. Water needs power to propel it so that becomes an issue also. Communications are somewhere between sporadic, terrible and nonexistent. A Herculean task lays ahead and I see the challenge as a super way to cap my career in this great industry. So I close with Pa'lante (Forward) Puerto Rico.
"Thanks for your concern and continued prayers."