PUERTO RICO – On September 6, 2017, the eye of Hurricane Irma, a powerful category 5 storm, passed just north of San Juan. Though the hurricane caused massive damage to the island, Puerto Ricans breathed a sigh of relief knowing it could have been much worse. But just two weeks later, their worst fears were realized.
Maria, a massive category 4 hurricane with wind speeds just two miles per hour shy of category 5 status, slammed into Puerto Rico on September 20. The storm’s powerful winds and torrential rains wreaked unprecedented havoc across the entire island. Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was completely destroyed leaving millions without power. Even worse, the storm left many without access to safe water, and, in some areas, 80 to 90 percent of structures were destroyed.
As the scope of the destruction became clear, Operation Blessing set to work. OBI staff arrived on the ground as soon as the airport opened. With no power on the island, Operation Blessing began by distributing hundreds of solar lights to children and families in need. OBI partnered with a local bakery to produce 1,000 loaves of bread per day, providing critical food relief. “Many of these people cannot prepare their own food,” said bakery manager Debbie Perez. “They have no electricity, there’s no water, there’s no gas, and we have the opportunity to bless these people.”
As much as they needed food and light, the greatest need for Puerto Ricans was water. At the height of the crisis as many as 50 percent of residents did not have access to safe drinking water. Operation Blessing shipped large-scale water purification and desalination equipment to the island as quickly as possible. It wasn’t long before nine reverse osmosis systems, and the generators to power them, were installed in various locations across Puerto Rico. Each system is capable of desalinating and purifying 1,800 gallons of water per day. Operation Blessing also set up a chlorine production center in San Juan’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum utilizing three Sanilac-6 chlorine generators. The chlorine produced at this location alone was enough to disinfect over 1.2 million gallons of drinking water a day. In addition, Operation Blessing distributed over 100,000 water disinfecting Aquatabs and handed out thousands of Kohler Clarity water filtration units to families without safe water.
To further meet the water needs of hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, Operation Blessing created Operation Agua in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Hispanic Federation. Operation Agua will allow OBI to bring even more Kohler Clarity water filters, Sanilac-6 chlorine generators, Parker reverse osmosis systems, and Water Mission chlorinators to Puerto Rico.
Not only have Operation Blessing teams brought solar lights, food, and safe water to the needy in Puerto Rico, we’re also helping them start the rebuilding process. As Maria tore across the island, many Puerto Ricans lost their roofs. Operation Blessing is targeting some of the most vulnerable families and repairing their homes.
As our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico face the monumental task of recovering from Hurricane Maria, friends like you have been there from the beginning, working to forge a path forward.
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