News From Puerto Rico

This week, Captain Richard Forney from The Salvation Army Aurora was deployed for another round of disaster relief service; this time to Puerto Rico. In September, he served after Hurricane Harvey tore its way through Texas. Now he’s seeing the incredible, terrible damage in Puerto Rico – and sharing his experience via Facebook as much as he can with extremely limited electricity, phone service, and internet.

His stories are compelling and his photos illustrate the devastation of the island. Below we share some of his reports on his first days there (quoted from his Facebook posts).

Captain Richard Forney of The Salvation Army in Aurora serves in Disaster Relief efforts in Puerto Rico

DAY 1

We had many people on the plane coming to PR. A few groups from churches spoke to me while we boarded, excited to be serving…. As we came closer to the ground I could see many blue tarp covered homes patterned like a quilt all over San Juan. There was loud cheering in the plane as we landed, so many people desperate to see their loved ones.

I want to make note of everything I see that stands out, so it doesn’t become “normal” to me.

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There were so many elderly people in wheel chairs in airport at the gates, all lined up. I was later told many are there on standby hoping for an open seat to be able to leave. I can’t imagine how I’m going to be able to walk by any of them when it’s time for me to go. Let that sink in.

I got picked up by Bram the PIO, officer from Brockton Mass. Trees are down everywhere, I mean everywhere. Up until this last week they could be described as looking sandblasted, even bark torn off. With all the recent rain these broken trunks and branches are beginning to bud again. Signs of life.

Huge highway billboard towers are blown over, twisted steel in sculptured piles. Power lines are down everywhere, still. And by down, I mean along the shoulder of the highways, roads, in yards, and on homes. Metal poles, wood beams, and concrete power towers scattered with wires still sprawled over fences and threaded through toppled trees.

Then another sight was explained to me. At certain stretches along the highway countless cars were pulled over, like a LOT of cars, where I was told cell phone reception was stronger. Apparently it’s a common occurrence.

The 8 of us from Central [Territory of The Salvation Army] are now here 1 couple from Norridge came last week serving in operations, the rest on the IMT [Incident Management Team]. 3 officers & 3 EDS skilled veterans. 5 more from somewhere else are arriving for operations assignments tomorrow, but about 20 are leaving over the next week. If your math skills are even basic you can see how this could be a challenge for us….

There are some real unique circumstances here that make this challenging. I won’t go into details now. Please pray for those here serving. The many corps people are incredible working daily with their corps officers as they feed their neighbors. We are the only IMT here, and will be running operations to keep the 11 Corps supplied with what food and water we have. We transport to them daily by trucks and loaded canteens.

What I’ve learned so far: Yes there are unmet areas yet to receive supplies, and roads that can’t be driven on.

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Tomorrow I hope to record and post. Tonight I’m sleeping on an air mattress in a meeting room where the roof isn’t leaking along with 5 other volunteers and officer men. I’m grateful for the generator keeping the AC running in this building and that I can keep in touch because of the satellite internet, even if FaceTime is almost impossible.

Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief - The Salvation Army

DAY 2

Went to Guayama to the PR Kroc and met with Maj Mercado. They are serving 1200 per day out in the community including 300 seniors.

Their building has been hit hard even though it was built to withstand.

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We did a walk through and it hurt knowing what joy this Center brings when operating as it is designed to do. The chapel roof has been compromised and water damage will require mold remediation after the contracted repairs are completed.

The child care center was shut down and pool emptied. The water isn’t really safe to expose eyes to.

Glass doors rated for hurricane winds cracked, some ripped off their hinges entirely and the skylights in the gym roof gave way.

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[Major Mercado] has been there 6 years, present 3 months into the building of the facility so he knows the bones of the building and depth needed for repairs. Repeated diesel refueling is needed as they are the only respite facility in the community with AC and food prep. The facility is limping but its testimony is shining bright in the community. Please keep Majors Mercado, their staff, and volunteers in your prayers.

Capt. Richard Forney's documentation of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Disasters

DAY 3

Went to Ingenio. North side of island. Water was released from a dam upriver in the night (Deja Vu Beaumont TX). 2 here died in the storm. We have our a truck full and two mini van loads as well as much as we could put in the Jeeps Homeland Security is driving providing security for these fire run missions.

I was able to talk with many today, hugging many seniors and tears of gratitude and joy. People hoped for water over anything else. We are limited in that. We give what we can, empty the trucks and head back.

Sooo much need we can’t begin to address transition to recovery as things are.

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The teens at the basketball court stopped to help take boxes out to seniors in their neighborhood that couldn’t make it to us. Teens taking care of the seniors here. I was able to pray with a retired engineer who I praised for raising the boys in his neighborhood right. Puerto Rico proud.

– from later that day –
…It’s really dark outside here, as soon as the sun sets I seek the comfort of the indoors. There’s no way I want to be returning from somewhere after hours. I find that the very idea of trying to navigate bumper to bumper highways and streets while driving without stop lights, street signs, overhead street lamps, lit up storefronts and visible landmarks.

This becomes the descriptors in a metaphor of where we (and all those on this Island) also find themselves in seeking solutions based on identifying signs, illumination we take for granted, and recovery benchmarks that are not visible here.

Allow me to explain further.

You know how often we shoot the breeze solving world problems as we kick back over some coffee and donuts? Well we are here, doing the same, but can’t walk away at the end. We have to make a strategic move on this chess board that is going to provide options for successive future ones leading toward a successful outcome. We are forced to face the real problems of understanding the complexities present here in several organizational systems (including our own). We must take into account one’s limited capacity to continue to operate at a high functioning level under prolonged duress.

We have to look past the EDS [Emergency Disaster Services] daily activity to honestly tackle the toughest of questions regarding what a healthy normal will look like and how to ensure we get there.

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A handful of us spent time this evening identifying multiple layers of challenges present that need to be addressed. We are now sleeping on it (I’ll eventually be there soon–but I have to process some of this first). We are only here for two weeks, but as we identify these issues, each of us knows we need discernment, prayer, and guidance in making decisions that have multiple long term consequences. We have to take strategic steps at appropriate moments. There are multiple suggestions for creating a healthy foundation framework in what needs to happen moving forward. A healthy relationship based discussion inclined toward progressive recovery is needed, but this requires blessings and champions that exist outside our functioning reality, or they will just be discussions or wind up in a brief left behind. We need ownership of the goals and means to get there, not just access to unlimited amounts of food and water.

Here we strategize while coordinating our available resources, but together we recognize our need to be solution focused, moving with steps toward self-sufficiency. We are thinking through identifying our own benchmarks in recovery and not falling back on crisis driven thinking.

We don’t want to just feed and love on people, we need to solidify the ministry focused Corps Community centers and distribution staff who are the hands and feet of ongoing long term operations.

We want to move beyond this discussion of strategizing the food and resource distribution network without corrective prescriptive support to all those in appointed and acting leadership here. It’s a delicate house of cards. These wounded warriors need our prayers. They need proper respite not currently available under these island wide crisis conditions.

I’m praying for our pathway of hope to become such a clear vision before our team that others will also see it, recognizing that it is not of our own making, but given with divine inspiration. Truly life giving. Show us your way Lord.

 


We’ll share of Captain Richard Forney’s experiences as he continues his service in Puerto Rico. If you’d like to make a donation to support relief efforts, please visit HelpSalvationArmy.org or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY.

 



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