When Gary Morsch finally made his way from Kansas City to post-Maria Puerto Rico on Sunday, on a helicopter from Haiti, he went straight to a hospital in Caguas, south of the capital city of San Juan, and offered to relieve one of the doctors on duty there.
A lot of emergency and medical workers still haven’t been home to see if home is still there, and “the ER doctor was happy to get a break,” said Brian McDonell, associate director of Heart to Heart International, the Lenexa-based relief organization Morsch co-founded.
The entire U.S. commonwealth, home to 3.4 million of our fellow Americans, needs all the breaks it can get right now. Because the whole graceful, glorious island, the world’s oldest former colony, was effectively blown back in time a week ago by winds so high they broke some of the gauges.
Forty-four percent of Puerto Rico is now without drinking water, according to our Department of Defense.
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Crops are ruined, and those pretty pastel houses that looked like wedding cakes are missing top layers. Streets remain blocked by downed trees and electrical poles.
No one knows how long the power and cell service will be out, and even those with generators, hospitals included, are running out of gas.
Food and proper sanitation are in such short supply that aid organizations see a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
Air traffic control was at least temporarily knocked out, and the tourism that’s the mainstay of PR’s already struggling economy is gone, too, for now.
President Donald Trump will visit the island in a week, and he promises that there as well as in Florida and Texas “we will be stronger, we’ll be bigger” than before the succession of killer storms.
But Puerto Rico is going to require a massive federal infusion of additional aid that we hope Congress will approve without too much wrangling; lives are at stake. (American lives, which we wouldn’t repeat except that polling shows about half of us didn’t know that, much less realize that Puerto Ricans have been American citizens for exactly a century, since 1917.)
There are also ways that we as individuals can help.
Locally, Heart to Heart has a second team — seven medical volunteers and the group’s CEO, who’ll work on logistics — due to arrive in Puerto Rico Wednesday. They’re looking for more doctors, nurses and EMTs from the Kansas City area who can leave soon to help on the ground there, as well as volunteers who can help put together hygiene kits at pop-up events at their warehouse in Lenexa.
To volunteer or make a cash donation to Heart to Heart International, call 913-764-5200.
The first lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, has also organized a relief effort, called United for Puerto Rico.
All five living former American presidents are working together to raise money for victims in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida through their One America Appeal.
Other well-rated charities raising money for survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria include AmeriCares, which is sending medicine and emergency supplies, Catholic Relief Services, which is fund-raising for shelter, water, tarps, tents, and hygiene and kitchen kits, and the International Medical Corps, where donations will be spent on “emergency medical care, access to clean water and proper sanitation to help prevent the outbreak of cholera and other water-borne diseases.”
The level of devastation is so severe and communications so poor that many here on the mainland have been slow to process all that Puerto Rico will be up against for years to come.
But if we pitch in now, we’ll never have to look back in horror that we let our own people die of neglect.