One of the realities of our post-Maria world is living with the fragile infrastructure and all the trickle down effects. Today it rained. The island has been water-logged since Hurricane Irma, so even small amounts of rain create flooding. Even if it’s not raining in the coastal areas, rain in the mountains upstream means flooding of the river beds and estuaries.
Flooding means that many of the people and businesses who have restored power lost it again. Three steps forward, two steps back. The grid is weak; it was before Maria (our building had 18 power outages in the month of August…three for more than six hours) and it certainly is now.
Side note: why are we even talking about restoring an antiquated electrical grid when there are so many alternative and sustainable solutions available?!
Flooding also means traffic. Lots of it. This is another new reality of our post-Maria world. Many traffic lights have not been restored and some back roads are still closed so the streets are busy. Even without flooding, traffic is bad, especially during the week when kids are in school 9-12 every morning. Some parents are spending all morning in traffic. By the time they return home from dropping their kids off, it’s time to go back to pick them up again. People have been unbelievably nice on the roads (no road rage) but everything takes longer.
Flooding is also another indicator and divider between the rich and poor. Those that can have generators. Indeed, most tourists are blissfully unaware of the power issues on our island (even post-Maria in many cases) as hotels and restaurants have generators, so the A/C stays on and the piña coladas stay icy.
But traffic and losing power again is only a small problem of the flooding, and an inconvenience to most. Many of the people who lost their roofs and parts of their homes are still living in makeshift accommodations with what they have and tarps over holes. Rain isn’t just an inconvenience for them. Their homes are flooding yet again, over and over.
Many of these people are in the mountains of Puerto Rico, hardest hit by Maria. A common refrain of those of us living in coastal areas is that we are doing just fine. We are adapting well, even seeing the silver lining and increased community spirit since Maria. Stores and restaurants are open. Everyone is nicer to each other, for instance. We ARE worried about medium- to long-term recovery; for instance, will tourists come back? Is ‘our season’ (Nov-March) gone? Our beaches and oceans are open for business and there are certainly plenty of options for hotels, accommodations, and restaurants. We need the tourism dollars, and we are worried too many are writing us off.
But again. These are relatively small issues compared to what we know is happening just a few miles away in the mountains. Comparatively very little aid like food and water has reached these more remote places… And simple amenities like running water and power are beyond reach.
So a number of independent brigades have sprung up, led by true post-Maria heroes. Many work to gather food and aid and supplies and head into the mountains grassroots style to deliver door-to-door to those who need it most. Tomorrow we are joining such a group. Last week they had 12 volunteers. Tomorrow we expect more than. 100.
We are so happy that our time in North Carolina has allowed us to mobilize hundreds….and ultimately thousands….of Uzima water filters arriving Wednesday. We will be distributing them and teaching communities how to use them using the distribution systems and deep community networks of these independent brigades.
These filters are a game-changer. Potable water is at a premium. The stores are out of bottled water. There is beer on the shelves, but no water. Even people who have restored running water (like us) cannot drink it as the island infrastructure cannot power the water filtration systems, and the reservoirs are contaminated. It is raining so much, yet clean drinking water is beyond reach. We already had a water filter and have been using it, supplemented by some iodine tablets to treat tap water, and the kindness of friends everywhere we go. “Would you like a bottle of water to go? It’s cold.”
Buckets have been labeled a ‘necessity item’ by the government, which means they are price protected and difficult to buy in bulk. Uzima water filters work best with 5 gallon buckets, and we have been on a hunt to find them. Friends at Sherwin Williams are helping us, but their inventory levels are low. We hit the jackpot by arriving a few days ago at the bustling Home Depot (a sign on the door says “we have no generators…please don’t even bother asking”) to find a brand new shipment of more than 2000 buckets. We bought 500 on the spot, with special permission to buy in bulk after explaining our project.
Today we returned with a truck to pick up those 500 buckets. 4 pallets of buckets later, we showed up unannounced (no cell signal to call) to deliver them to be stored at our independent brigade’s leader’s cousin’s nearby business warehouse. His wholesale food distribution business, El Viandon, has gone from 25 routes to five, and while he waits to restock inventory, his trucks have been diverted to deliver supplies to those who need it most.
It was a good day. Mobilizing to help others is so positive and rewarding. We are meeting and experiencing the generosity and kindness of people we never would have, pre-Maria. There is a beautiful sense of togetherness as survivors and as people helping to rebuild our beautiful island. Is a daunting task, but it is happening and we are all just getting it done.