YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s been more than four months since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. The island itself was devastated and most of the clean water and power were lost.
The immediate needs of the people there have been met, for the most part, but the rebuilding process is ongoing.
Jeanette Morales lives in Youngstown but has family in Puerto Rico. She said power in Isabela, where her father lives, was restored only a few days ago.
Morales asked her father to drive her around so she could see first-hand the damage from the hurricane. As Morales looked around, she said she was overcome with sadness.
Brian Peters, of Fredonia, Pennsylvania, is a contractor working to restore internet service and get new power lines up on the island. He said when he arrived, the island was in chaos.
“It rained constantly the first two months I was here. There was no electricity in San Juan. There were no traffic lights,” Peters said. “They are saying probably two to three years before they get everything back to the way it used to be.”
Many of the immediate needs of people were helped by donations, and things have gotten better. The American Red Cross distributed 8.5 million meals in the first three months.
Despite the devastation, Morales and Peters say change is happening.
“A lot of people are optimistic. My family, when I saw them, seemed happy because they are alive,” Morales said.
The Red Cross released their three-month report on their Hurricane relief efforts. They’ve raised $65.5 million but have only used about half of the funds.
When asked why more money hasn’t been used, Red Cross officials said a big reason is that when people sign up for help they sometimes can’t be found later. They relocate or a phone number has been disconnected. There is also, at times, a lag between when the money comes in and when it goes out.
The American Red Cross said in it’s latest news release that volunteers on the ground are tracking down where the biggest needs are.
Joe Busch, who supervises the Disaster Assessment team in Puerto Rico, explains that field interviews and data collection allow the Red Cross to “assess how the recovery process is changing so that it can better adapt the recovery efforts to the actual needs of the people.”
Information is sent electronically from the field to headquarters and analyzed to inform the relevant services, like logistics and emergency supplies. This helps the Red Cross know where to send the trucks, which supplies are needed in a particular neighborhood or to avoid sending goods to communities that might not benefit from them. It also gives them real-time information on the state of the roads and other infrastructure. This data is also shared with other partners, including FEMA, to collaborate more efficiently and avoid duplication.