Seven months to the day of Hurricane Maria, the forgotten community of Utuado inaugurated their brand new bridge! After months of being incommunicated, having to walk 4-hours into the nearest city center and still without electricity, they cheerfully branded their new bridge, celebrated with the construction and engineering teams in a generator-lit house. They brought music, beer and enough food to feed a small army, happily sharing the one thing Maria failed to take away from us: our happiness.
Coming back at nightfall from the Utuado community, driving back to our homes, minds racing about the impact of the people we had met, knowing something had to be done. I asked Agnes if she would help me with this idea I had: help the people in these communities we had visited all throughout the center of the island (We had been traveling for days across Puerto Rico visiting communities, landmarks while passing miles of devastation). She agreed and I started working, getting supplies and organizing myself. At the moment, the idea was just a pipe dream; never realizing the profound change it would invoke on me.
Waking up one morning with no electricity or running water, I thought it would be great opportunity to begin working with impacted communities around the island. I had the skills of years of off-roading, rescue and living from your car (overlanding) and recognized this moment marked a turning point in history and one I wanted to feel part of. I woke up to a New York Times (link) article of the destruction in Puerto Rico with references to the washed-out bridge that connected the Utuado community with the outside world. It was the first time I had seen the images or known about the disaster and took it as a mission to go, document and figure out how I could help. As you can imagine, having no electricity or running water around the whole island made planning for it more like an expedition rather than a roadtrip as you needed to carry food/water and fuel for if you get stuck someplace due to floods, landslides or taking other routes due to destroyed roads.
During the two weeks between Irma and Maria I was able to get back on my feet. Electricity arrived on the 12th day and I got busy buying another whole-house generator since my 20year old one caught fire on day 3 of Irma. They said it would take about 2 months to arrive and I was Okay with that. Little did I know it would arrive a few days after I got electricity after Maria.
Hours after Irma’s winds subsided (close to midnight) I went out to explore and help in any way I could. Packing knowledge from years of offroading and rescue, I ventured outside in my truck “La Manati” and found the road infront of my neighborhood blocked by trees which we then proceeded to remove by using a snatch rope and some tree savers.