Hurricane Maria One Year Later: Worker Looks Back and Recalls People’s Resilience

Editors Note: Jorge Martinez, Regional COO of the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, deployed to Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

By Jorge Martinez, COO, Red Cross, Northeast Ohio Region

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Jorge Martinez carries a case of water to residents stranded by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

 

So how is Puerto Rico doing one year after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria?  The short answer is, “Well, I really don’t know.  But I think do!”

When I came back last October, having spent a few weeks on the ground in Puerto Rico, I shared a story about a wonderful lady who had welcomed her neighbor into her humble home and simply wanted some tarps to protect her elderly neighbor’s belongings, since the house had no roof.  In that story I also mentioned my friend Brad and the many other Red Cross volunteers like him who were serving with so much compassion and love… always putting the needs of others before self.  (Click here for a link to that story.)  This helps answer the question, “How is Puerto Rico doing?” The story that follows also helps answer that question.

On October 8th last year, I was in a hot, destroyed place called Ensenada, Puerto Rico.  Ensenada is on the southern coast of the southwest corner of the island… and like every other place on the island, it had been devastated.  There were a lot of people with a lot of need in the area who hadn’t been helped yet, so we brought two crews and two large trucks full of supplies.  We set up shop in a large government convention center and delivered supplies to hundreds of families.  And of course, the temperature felt like a thousand degrees!

I was carrying some supplies for a sweet old lady to her car so that she could sustain herself, for a few days anyway.  She reminded me a lot of my own grandmother, who had passed away many years before.  We were chatting on the walk to her car; it’s amazing how you can connect with people when you strip away all the artificial barriers we create.  It’s beautiful!  As we were approaching her car she said, “You know, mijo (ME-HO – Spanish for “my son”), God tests us.  But any time he does, he sends an angel and today you’re my angel.”

Fortunately, I was wearing sunglasses.

When I landed in Puerto Rico on September 28, 2017 we were on one of the first flights following the hurricane.  At that point, planes could only land during the day because there were no navigational instruments since there was no power.  As you could imagine, the dark, steamy airport was full of people who were trying to get out.  As we came through the jetway, the crowd started clapping and thanking us.  It was a humbling moment but it speaks to the power of our brand… what we stand for… what we represent.  And at that particular point it was hope!  And that matters.  In times of need, hope matters.

I read the news and see the advances that are happening in Puerto Rico.  I also note the setbacks.  The truth is, at least how I see it, Puerto Rico will not be back to “normal” for many years.  But that’s OK.  Puerto Ricans are resilient, warm, caring and extremely communal.  And so is the Red Cross.  I haven’t been back, but I know that our long-term recovery teams, comprised primarily of volunteers, are on the ground humbly carrying out the king’s work and will be there for quite some time.  That’s hopeful; that’s comforting.

So, how’s Puerto Rico doing?  Well, probably not so good.  But they’re doing great!

Thanks For Giving

A Thanksgiving Message from CEO Mike Parks

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I will soon sit down for what I know will be a wonderfully delicious and far too filling turkey dinner with family and friends.  Yes—we have so much for which to be thankful—something that comes top of mind this time of year.  One of the many special things about working for the Red Cross is I get to see things for which to be grateful all year round—including the last three months.

This past three months have been nothing short of amazing.  The American Red Cross launched wide-ranging relief efforts to help people devastated by a historic hurricane season, deadly wildfires in California, and mass shooting incidents in Las Vegas and Texas.  Since Mid-August, the Red Cross has:

  • Provided 1.3 million overnight stays
  • Served more than 10.5 million meals and snacks, and
  • Distributed more than 6 million emergency relief items

In Northeast Ohio, we:

  • Deployed 119 volunteers and staff to support disaster operations as well as all four of our emergency response vehicles
  • Welcomed more than 100 new volunteers into our Red Cross family
  • Installed 7,262 free smoke alarms through the Home Fire Campaign, making 2,732 households safer.

This photo was taken in Puerto Rico, and shows Northeast Ohio COO Jorge Martinez negotiating a mud-covered road to deliver water to residents of Yauco.

Jorge Cropped

All of these things were accomplished while your American Red Cross continued to prevent and alleviate human suffering right here in Northeast Ohio, responding to home fires and other calamities.  Thank you to all of you for your support of time, talent, and treasure.  Yes—Northeast Ohio raised literally millions of dollars to support Red Cross relief efforts—thank you!!

I hope you each get a chance to spend some quality time with family & friends, enjoying fantastic food, watching fun football, and taking advantage of the opportunity to reflect on those many things for which we’re thankful and grateful.  Thank you again for all you do…Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Best regards…Mike

Editor’s note: Dozens of volunteers and donors from across the Northeast Ohio Region gathered at Regional Headquarters in Cleveland on Tuesday, November 21, for a “Thanks for Giving” celebration, in appreciation for their sacrifices and service to the Red Cross during the past several months.  A photo album of the event can be viewed by clicking here.