Hurricane Maria

Profiles in Resilience

Here are 10 people, representative of thousands more across Puerto Rico, who have been working to recover and rebuild their communities since Hurricane Maria.

Pedro Luis Ortiz built his home in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, 27 years ago. On Dec. 18, 2017, Ortiz and his family took down what remained of the home’s second floor after Hurricane Maria made landfall in the surrounding valley. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)
Pedro Luis Ortiz built his home in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, 27 years ago. On Dec. 18, 2017, Ortiz and his family took down what remained of the home’s second floor after Hurricane Maria made landfall in the surrounding valley. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)

Pedro Luis Ortiz

Resident

Arroyo, Puerto Rico

Since building the home in 1997, Pedro Ortiz had watched as multiple hurricanes churned through his hometown of Arroyo. But Hurricane Maria was a different kind of storm altogether.

When winds of more than 155 miles per hour ripped through the mountainous community, the home had its second story ripped off, where Ortiz, his wife and two daughters lived. They survived the storm, but their home was devastated.

Puerto Rico Housing officials estimate that more than 300,000 homes across the island were lashed by significant damage. Ortiz was one of many working to dismantle what was left of his family’s home, and start to rebuild their future.

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Yesena Ortiz manages medical records at Centro Salud Familiar, a community health center in her hometown of Arroyo, Puerto Rico. As Ortiz's parents focus on rebuilding their damaged home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Yesena exists as the family’s primary income. After the hurricane struck, washed out roads and downed power lines forced her to walk an hour and half each way to work. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)
Yesenia Ortiz manages medical records at Centro Salud Familiar, a community health center in her hometown of Arroyo, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)

Yesenia Ortiz

Records manager

Arroyo, Puerto Rico

After the hurricane struck, washed out roads and downed power lines forced Yesenia Ortiz to walk an hour and half each way to work. That’s where she manages medical records at the community’s health center, Centro Salud Familiar, in her hometown of Arroyo, Puerto Rico. As Ortiz’s parents focus on rebuilding their damaged home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Yesenia’s income is the family’s primary financial support.

Health centers play a key role in disasters, and many times, staff there become first responders. Because many also live locally to where they work, they become victims themselves. Cash grants from Direct Relief’s hurricane community health fund went to clinics, allowing them to use the money for costs not otherwise covered by federal funds or insurance while staff work to bring the clinics back to full strength. Centro Salud Familiar Clinic, where Ortiz works, received a grant of $25,000 to use towards these costs.

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Miguel Morales, president of the community nonprofit Acción Comunitaria del Viví, Inc., checks the water pressure in the building before solar laundry services open in Barrio Vivi Arriba, Utuado, Puerto Rico, on May 26, 2018. Inside a former public school, the group, funded by Direct Relief, opened a free laundry service for the two nearby communities who have been without power for over eight months. The group, coordinated by Miguel Morales, serves as a community and aid center in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Many of the residents of the mountainous area are elderly and underprivileged. (Photo by Erika P. Rodríguez for Direct Relief)
Miguel Morales, president of the community nonprofit Acción Comunitaria del Viví, Inc., checks the water pressure in the building before solar laundry services open in Barrio Vivi Arriba, Utuado, Puerto Rico, on May 26, 2018. Inside a former public school, the group, funded by Direct Relief, opened a free laundry service for the two nearby communities who had been without power for over eight months. (Photo by Erika P. Rodríguez for Direct Relief)

Miguel Morales

Community leader

Utuado, Puerto Rico

To say that Miguel Morales is a hands-on leader in his community would be an understatement.

Shortly after Hurricane Maria swept through the mountain community of Utuado in Central Puerto Rico, Morales and other community leaders, Iván Robles and William Reyes, rolled up their sleeves. They walked up to six miles a day, clearing debris with machetes and untangling power lines.

Access to water and power remained a challenge, post-Hurricane, in Utuado. A solar laundry, funded by Direct Relief and AbbVie, was installed in Utuado, and Morales and others were instrumental, even installing the pipeline for the washing machines themselves.

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Radiologist Yania López Álvarez (center), discusses the patient cases of her residents, Amanda P. Marrero González and Manuel Betancourt Robles, at the Medical Center of Puerto Rico in San Juan, P.R., on May 10, 2018. Lopez, director of the Imaging Center of the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, returned to her homeland last year to work with the island’s population, leaving behind onerous job offers in the mainland. With a donation from Direct Relief, the 35-year-old will be able to practice her specialty and create her most desired workshop doing Contrast-Enhanced Spectral Mammography at the center, as the new x-ray machine is expected to arrive later in the year. Currently, the young doctor spends most of her time working with radiology residents at the public hospital, where the UPR School of Medicine is located at. (Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)
Dr. Yania López Álvarez (center), discusses patient cases residents at the Medical Center of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Lopez, director of the Imaging Center of the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, returned to her homeland last year to work with the island’s population, leaving behind onerous job offers in the mainland.  (Photo by Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)

Dr. Yania Lopez

Radiologist

San Juan, Puerto Rico

When Radiologist Dr. Yania López Álvarez moved back to Puerto Rico, she gave up job offers that would have doubled her current salary.

“Job offers in the U.S. are very attractive, but I knew that I wanted to come back,” said Dr. López, who works as Director of the Imaging Center of the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico and assistant professor at the UPR School of Medicine.

At the time she moved back to the island, the public health system of Puerto Rico didn’t have a program for her to apply her expertise in breast imaging, which she had practiced at the Mayo Clinic.

After Maria swept through, many of Puerto Rico’s doctors and medical professionals left the island to find work elsewhere. Dr. Lopez was determined to stay, and worked to establish Puerto Rico’s first breast imaging center. A donation from Direct Relief funded the purchase of contrast-enhanced digital mammography technology to the center.

“Having the best technology in the best place makes the sacrifices worth it because you know that you’re making difference,” said Dr. López.

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Noel Torres works at Cl’nica Iella in San Juan, P.R., on July 5, 2018. Torres installs solar 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. 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 on the roof of Clinica Iella in San Juan. Torres worked for months installing solar panels  on buildings across the island after Hurricane Maria while not having power at his own home. (Erika P. Rodriguez/Direct Relief)

Noel Torres

Solar technician

San Juan, Puerto Rico

In the weeks after Maria, Noel 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. Torres worked to outfit several health centers with the solar energy systems they’d need to weather the next emergency, and stay operational for patients.

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.”

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Tuesday November 6, 2018 / Yabucoa, Puerto Rico/Alex Rodriguez, a young PHD candidate from Canovanas Puerto Rico, works at the Tejas community in Yabucoa, installing solar panels to provide power to the community water pump system. Direct Relief is committed to provide clean water to non-PRASA communities in the Island. After Hurricane Maria. Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for Direct Relief
Alex Rodriguez, a young PHD candidate from Canovanas Puerto Rico, checks the water pressure at the Tejas community in Yabucoa, where solar panels were installed to provide power to the community water pump system. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for Direct Relief)

Alex Rodriguez

Clean water advocate

Yabucoa, Puerto Rico

Three weeks after Maria, Alex Rodriguez went to deliver water in Orocovis, a community in central Puerto Rico that was badly impacted by the storm.

Going from house to house, Rodriguez saw that residents had a supply of single-use bottles, but no water supply to provide water for daily life. He met a 93-year-old woman, who reminded him of his own grandmother. “I thought, I have to help,” he said. “They don’t need a bottle of water, they just need water.”

Rodriguez and group, Por Los Nuestros, set to work to ensure that those communities got access to the water they needed.

Read more here.

Emergency medical aid arrives at Health ProMed in Vieques, an island 80 miles east of San Juan that was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Bimarian Films for Direct Relief)
Emergency medical aid arrives at Health ProMed in Vieques, an island 80 miles east of San Juan that was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Bimarian Films for Direct Relief)

Dr. Ivette Perez

Physician

Vieques, Puerto Rico

The island of Vieques sits eight miles off of the coast of Puerto Rico, and is isolated even in normal times. After Hurricane Maria hit, the island became even more cut off, and its residents experienced protracted shortages of water, food and gasoline.

Dr. Ivette Perez was the only doctor working at the Centro de Salud Comunitario clinic for nearly a month after the storm made landfall.

“There was a moment where there were no medicines,” Dr. Perez recalled. “What matters in that moment is not the money, but who’s by your side. The community is what’s important.”

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Gloria del C. Amador Fernández, executive director of Salud Integral de la Montana Health Center, overlooks the mountain community of Naranjito on Dec. 17, 2017. During Hurricane Maria's high winds, the health center stayed open. "We were the only ones providing care on the mountain," she said. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)
Gloria del C. Amador Fernández, executive director of Salud Integral de la Montana Health Center, overlooks the mountain community of Naranjito on Dec. 17, 2017. During Hurricane Maria’s high winds, the health center stayed open. “We were the only ones providing care on the mountain,” she said. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)

Gloria Amador Fernandez

Executive Director, Salud Integral de Montana

Naranjito, Puerto Rico

Salud Integral de Montana in Naranjito, located 20 miles southwest of San Juan, serves the mountainous communities on the northern slopes of Cordillera Central.

During Hurricane Maria’s high winds, the health center kept its doors open for anyone who needed help, said Gloria del C. Amador Fernández, Salud Integral de la Montana Health Center’s Executive Director.

“We were the only ones providing care on the mountain,” she said.

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Morovis Community Health Center Nydia Torres in the center's pharmacy on Dec. 17, 2017. The center stopped treating patients before, during or after Hurricane Maria made landfall, even when the center's glass doors were destroyed by 150 mile-per-hour winds. Clinical staff were able to barricade the doors with plywood and the clinic kept operating. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)
Morovis Community Health Center Nydia Torres in the center’s pharmacy. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)

Nydia Torres

Pharmacist

Morovis, Puerto Rico

Morovis Community Health Center never closed its doors to patients, even after the center’s glass doors were destroyed by 150 mile-per-hour winds. Pharmacist Nydia Torres and other staff were able to barricade the doors with plywood and the clinic kept operating.

The clinic was one of the only facilities in the mountainous region to continuously provide medical care throughout the storm.

Dr. Carla Rossotti and Lisel Vargas talk through a patient’s file inside a children’s library turned medical clinic. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)
Dr. Carla Rossotti and Lisel Vargas talk through a patient’s file inside a children’s library turned medical clinic. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

Dr. Carla Rossotti

Primary care doctor

Coamo, Puerto Rico

With many people displaced after Hurricane Maria, shelters quickly popped up in places like schools or churches. Many also needed medical care, and doctors across the island worked to create pop-up clinics where medical facilities weren’t an option.

One of those doctors was Dr. Carla Rossotti. In the weeks after Maria, she and her team arrived at an elementary school housing dozens of people who’d been displaced from their homes. They quickly set up a clinic in the school’s library with medicines from Direct Relief, and saw patients for everything from high blood pressure to mental health needs.

Read more here.

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