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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."