Hurricane Maria was the most devastating storm to hit the island of Puerto Rico in 70 years, killing more than 50 people, displacing thousands and upending the lives of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million inhabitants during September of 2017.
In honor of the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria this September, as follow up to our assessment visit, Tzu Chi USA joined hands with the San Juan FEMA Disaster Recovery Center on Sept. 13-15 to distribute 3,000 portable solar-powered LED light bulbs to low-income municipalities impacted by Maria–Comerio, Orocovis, San Juan and Bayamon. Solar-powered light bulbs provided an environmentally conscious means of giving aid without implementing any additional harm.
Our volunteers arrived at the first and second Puerto Rican distribution stops, Comerio and Orocovis, on Thursday, Sept. 13. Families who have been impacted by Maria within these communities received solar-light bulbs, in addition to cash cards that were distributed on a need basis.
Since Hurricane Maria, the Comerio community has not seen much improvement. The community is still fighting to repair electricity and the local government has not been of much assistance.
Although a few households have been repaired, there are still many more homes in these communities that need work. Orocovis still experiences the lasting effects from the storm, in addition to thousands of other communities in all of Puerto Rico.
Even six weeks following Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Orocovis, local leaders still fear that psychological effects of the storm on children will be long-lasting and hard to erase.
“Many of them don’t yet understand the impact,” Orocovis Mayor Jesús Colón Berlingeri said. “They don’t understand why their house doesn’t have water, why their house doesn’t have power, why it no longer has a roof.”
In San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico, the rebuilding efforts have been the most successful. 4,000-plus restaurants are currently operating, with more than 1,885 in the Condado, Old San Juan and Santurce areas. There are now 130 hotels accepting guests, along with hundreds of Airbnb and Paradores listings.
The final distribution stop, Bayamon, was reached on Saturday, Sept. 15 by our volunteers, where families received solar light bulbs, in addition to $22,200 of financial aid.
Bayamón has seen significant recovery following Maria thanks to Tzu Chi USA’s efforts, but still has a long way to go. Many are without basic necessities such as food, water and shelter, and are forced to rely on public distribution centers for these needs.
Tzu Chi is committed to serve families in need with compassion and love, while highlighting the importance of being environmentally conscious. We hope to continue to assist the families affected by Hurricane Maria. Join hands with us today to end their suffering.