Nestled high in the mountains of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico the old-timers in Barrio Barranca told
“I remember Santa Clara when my daughter was just a little girl,” Carmen Lydia Montecina Rivera, 80, Mr. Rivera’s wife said, referring to the local name for Hurricane Betsy of 1958. “Santa Clara destroyed part of our home, but at least we could find food. Even Hugo wasn’t like this.” In 1989, Hurricane Hugo, like Hurricane Maria, wiped out banana and coffee crops. Monster hurricanes leave an indelible imprint. People here name them to mark the passage of time; it’s like knowing where you were on 9/11. “There are no bananas. No plantains,” Mrs. Rivera said. Plantains, related to bananas, need to be cooked; they are a Caribbean staple prepared in endless delicious ways. Fruit tress of every kind have been decimated on the island, impacting food availability and income sources for years to come. Banana family crops will take a year to recover. Locals say that mature avocado trees will likely take five years to bear fruit again, if they survived at all, since Hurricane Maria completely upended by many productive trees.
“Ay, there is no comparison to what Maria did to Puerto Rico,” said Teresa Rosado Ortiz, 86, as her doting family gave her a chair in the shade near the relief distribution line. A Red Cross volunteer personally delivered a case of drinking water and boxes of food to her side. “Do you know how to prepare the militares, grandmother?” Winnie Romeril, a Red Cross volunteer from upstate NY asked her. “Militares” (militaries) are the local name for the 2000 calorie pre-packaged meals commonly eaten by soldiers. “Yes, I know how,” she said. “You put a little water in the plastic bag and put it in the cardboard box and then it gets hot. Thank you for these supplies. Thank you.” Red Cross volunteers continue to encounter Puerto Ricans who are eating these packages of food cold. Some groups don’t take the time to explain how to heat the main dish when dropping off the meals-ready-to-eat (MRE’s), and the instructions are only printed in English. In asking about her health, Mrs. Ortiz said, “I have a bad heart.” The Red Cross volunteer winked and assured her, “No. I’m sure you have a very good heart,” which earned her a laugh.
In Puerto Rico, emergency relief efforts continue with a strong sense of urgency. Red Cross teams are in the field daily, distributing life-sustaining food and water, and providing home visits for health and mental health needs to island residents. The Red Cross team who helped the Riveras and Mrs. Ortiz on November 4th in Barranquitas, also served 1,582 people in the communities of Maná, Cañaboncito and Lajitas. Simultaneously that day, Red Cross teams delivered supplies to 17 other affected municipalities. Many hands truly made light work in giving out water and meals plus providing medical and legal assistance in Barranquitas, thanks to help from Michael Chavez Guerra and family, the Cintrón family (“El Familión”), the Fonalledas family, Pfizer (Michael Sweitzer), Chrysler (RAM Trucks of Puerto Rico and the RAM volunteers), Samaritan’s Purse and the volunteer doctors and nurses, the group of pro-bono lawyers, and all the volunteers from NY.