Hurricane Maria

Maria Left Him Without Power. Now He’s Making Sure Health Centers Can Power Through the Next Storm.

Solar panels are installed at Clínica Iella in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 5, 2018.  The system, funded by Direct Relief, will help the clinic maintain operations in the event of a power interruption.  (Photo by Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)
Solar panels are installed at Clínica Iella in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 5, 2018. The system, funded by Direct Relief, will help the clinic maintain operations in the event of a power interruption. (Photo by Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)

Noel Torres knows what life is like without power. When Hurricane Maria churned through Puerto Rico last fall, many homes – including that of Torres and his family – were left in a prolonged state of blackout.

“My wife wouldn’t sleep. It wasn’t easy. I almost sold everything and left, but I stayed,” said Torres.

Torres works for New Energy, a solar company that’s outfitting health facilities across Puerto Rico with solar energy systems.

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Noel Torres, installs a solar power system at Clínica Iella in San Juan, P.R., on July 5, 2018. Torres works with renewal power systems in the island and has seen more work after hurricane Maria struck in September of last year, and left the American territory in the dark. The clinic’s new solar system, funded by Direct Relief, will help them maintain their medication if there’s power interruption. Torres, from Aguadilla, worked for months installing solar panels while not having power for his family at home. (Erika P. Rodriguez/Direct Relief)
Noel Torres installs a solar power system at Clinica Iella in San Juan. Torres worked for months installing solar panels while living without power at his home in Aguadilla. (Photo by Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)

In the weeks after Maria, Torres would wake up each morning, well before sunrise, in a home still without electricity, to install solar in communities across the island that also lacked power.

About ten weeks later, Torres regained power in his home, but continued working long days to ensure others could experience the same thing.

Luis Montalvo install a solar power system at Cl’nica Iella in San Juan, P.R., on July 5, 2018. Montalvo works with renewal power systems in the island and has seen more work after hurricane Maria struck in September of last year, and left the American territory in the dark. The clinicÕs new solar system, funded by Direct Relief, will help them maintain their medication if thereÕs power interruption. (Erika P. Rodriguez/Direct Relief)
Clinica Iella in Puerto Rico serves about 75 patients and a month, and renewable energy systems will allow the facility to maintain operations should the power go out. (Photo by Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)

Among those to benefit from Torres’ work are the patients who rely on Clinica Iella for health and reproductive services.

When Hurricane Maria disabled the entire island’s electric system, the clinic couldn’t operate for weeks.

The solar installation project at Clinica Iella is part of a broader effort by Direct Relief to prepare health facilities in Puerto Rico to better withstand future emergencies.

“For us [the solar panels] are very important,” said Blanca Cuevas, Executive Director of Profamilia, which operates Clinica Iellas. “After Hurricane Maria, providing clinical services was one of the challenges. With this system, we can guarantee that operations can continue.”

Noel Torres, installs a solar power system at Clínica Iella in San Juan, P.R., on July 5, 2018. Torres works with renewal power systems in the island and has seen more work after hurricane Maria struck in September of last year, and left the American territory in the dark. The clinic’s new solar system, funded by Direct Relief, will help them maintain their medication if there’s power interruption. Torres, from Aguadilla, worked for months installing solar panels while not having power for his family at home. (Erika P. Rodriguez/Direct Relief)
Torres installs cabling for the new solar power system at Clinica Iella in early July.  (Photo by Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)

For Torres, switching on the lights in a home or business for the first time in weeks or months is a rewarding experience.

He recalled the case of a 60-year-old resident of Aguas Buenas and his wife and two daughters, all of whom had lived months without power until Torres was able to work on their home.

“He saw the electric bulbs on and began crying,” Torres said. “I donated extra time to the installation because I wanted to help as much as I could.”

That was an 18-hour workday for Torres and his colleagues. It wasn’t until 10:30 p.m. that they returned to their homes on the northwestern coast of the island, more than a two-hour drive away.


Since Hurricane Maria made landfall, Direct Relief, with support from AbbVie and others, has supported 67 local community health centers and hospitals with 399 emergency shipments of requested medication and supplies totaling more than $67.8 million (wholesale) and 9.1 million defined daily doses.

In addition to providing medical material assistance, Direct Relief has worked with community-based groups in Puerto Rico to invest more than $2.2 million in initiatives to bolster health services and local infrastructure.

Projects have included an island-wide vaccination campaign, the installation 791 kilowatts of solar energy and 2 megawatts of battery backup at 14 health centers and non-PRASA communities,  a telemedicine initiative to extend health services to rural areas, and equipping Puerto Rico’s medical reserve corps, among others. 

Alejandra Rosa Morales

Alejandra Rosa Morales is a journalist based in Puerto Rico.

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