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 a solar company that’s outfitting health facilities across Puerto Rico with solar energy systems.
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.
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.”
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.