HOPE AFTER 9/20: Courage, kindness and compassion after Hurricane Maria
I aim to narrate heartwarming events, as well as stories of redemption and resilience that followed from the horrendous disaster that struck Puerto Rico on 9/20/18.
This storm marked the lives of everyone that suffered through it, myself included.
Despite the tragedy of the lives it claimed and the destruction of our roads, nature, and property, many blessings resulted from the horrific natural disaster.
Although the positive occurrences do not outweigh the anguish it produced, I see them as a beacon of hope for a better Puerto Rico.
HOW THE US POWER COMPANIES SAVED US FROM ADDITIONAL MISERY AND DESPAIR
After 12 hours of pounding winds and rain, the entire island of Puerto Rico went dark. Most of the electric grid was destroyed.
Since water treatment plants were substantially damaged and required electricity to operate, we had no potable water either.
Communications were dead, as 1789 towers and antennas out of 1711 were destroyed.
We had no hope of the situation changing any time soon. The government estimated it would take 6 months to get the power back up.
The US Army Corps of Engineers immediately took over the mission of repairing the grid from the main power plants in the South of the island, crossing the mountain range that divides the North from the South, all the way to the Northern part where there is a greater demand for electricity.
The Army brought huge power generators for hospitals. They also brought powerful generators that provided electricity when the power plants failed.
If it had not been for the USACOE and the US Army, 10 months after the storm more than half of the island would still lack any power.
Our inexperienced governor did not activate the mutual assistance protocol available from the American Power Plants Association. Under that agreement, power companies across the United States join forces to assist the restoration of power in areas where a disaster has destroyed more than what the local utility can handle.
40 days after the disaster, the governor of Puerto Rico decided to ask for help from US power companies under American Public Power Association’s mutual aid agreements.
I believe that the governor’s delay in requesting the mutual assistance from the US companies played a major role in the thousands that died for weeks after the hurricane.
It was not until the end of October that the first brigades of ConEdison started arriving in Puerto Rico.
Linemen came from all over the nation. They brought their trucks, equipment and tools. At one point, it was estimated there were 60,000 linemen from the US. While the local workers took their afternoon naps and illegally charged people to have their service restored faster, the US workers labored day and night to restore our electrical grid.
The local utility’s workers indifference and despicable behavior made the linemen from New York to Texas work harder to restore our power.
They could not act faster because of the roadblocks the local utility and its workers placed upon them. They had no materials in stock to carry out the repairs.
Any time the US linemen lit a community, men, women and children would cry, hug and kiss them. People humbly prepared lunches and dinners for them, receiving them in their homes.
Among the people that made special meals to honor them, my friend Sylvia went all out to show her gratitude and respect for these brave men that worked in very dangerous circumstances.
In my neighborhood, we made a small gathering to honor them as well
They humbly though they were doing their job, For us, they were miracle workers
Some communities even paid homage to them in ceremonies, making t-shirts, meals and even had customized cakes for the occasion.
I am grateful that the thousands of US linemen got to see the goodness and generosity of most Puerto Ricans. Even those whose homes were substantially destroyed and had little left offered them the best they had.
Aside from the public utilities’ linemen, private companies also came to our rescue. Duracell had crews that would leave every morning from the emergency hub to give out thousands of batteries throughout the island.
Tesla took over and donated the restoration of power in parts of the municipality of Vieques and parts of other municipalities.
Not feeling abandoned touched everyone’s heart. The outpouring of solidarity, kindness and hard work of these exemplary workers gave us plenty of reasons to be grateful.
There is yet another reason for Puerto Ricans to be grateful after so much hardship. Most of the linemen that selflessly left their families, mostly during the holiday season to come to our rescue, without knowing it, have become ambassadors to the Puerto Rican people in the mainland. They can educate others as to what it is like to live among native Puerto Ricans.
We are also grateful for the attention brought by the media’s reporting of the Hurricane’s effect and response; a substantially higher percentage of Americans became aware of the fact that Puerto Ricans are American citizens too. Because of this there is an increased awareness of the need to treat us as equals.
Another blessing in disguise that the hurricane prompted was the massive support within our population for the privatization of the state-run, abusive monopoly that is the Puerto Rico Electric Power Company. Without the hurricane’s effects, no one in the government would have had the courage to contemplate the bankrupt utility’s much-needed privatization. For decades, they had maintained the government and the citizens hostage of their shenanigans and abuses.
We are all grateful that our Nation is funding the reconstruction of the entire electric infrastructure into a modern, sturdy one.
Perhaps the most important blessing that the hurricane brought upon us is the realization of how fortunate we are to be American citizens.
Had it not been for the assistance that the United States gave us since the day after the hurricane, there would be no end to the misery and tragedy in Puerto Rico.
Despite the suffering and gloom, the process of the power restoration in Puerto Rico gave us all a sense of perspective and a motive to be grateful and to recognize that behind it all, there were blessings in disguise.