A month and a half has gone by since Hurricane Maria passed thru Puerto Rico, which caused the death of dozens of people and the destruction of thousands of homes, with its 150 mph winds and torrential rains.
Puerto Rico hasn’t had such bad weather since 1928 when it was overwhelmed by a category 5 hurricane.
Since Maria hit, the island, with its more than three and a half million inhabitants, suffers from a real problem due to issues with the water supply, and the lack of food, medicine and electricity. The problems are not over, and could provoke an exodus never witnessed before, further reducing the chance of long-term recovery.
In the midst of these challenges, the local Focolare community has contributed to the relief action, with collections of food and clothing to support the local people. They wrote: “Some of us had significant damage to personal property especially one family who lost everything, managing to salvage only a few small objects from the fury of the hurricane. They are now living in a small apartment that was offered to them and the entire Focolare community is living a communion of goods to support them. The reconstruction of the area will be slow, but we have faith in God and have placed ourselves in His hands.”
There have been many experiences with neighbors and people who are having a hard time. “Yesterday, for the second time, I saw a well-dressed woman walking down my street in a confused, aimless state. She was obviously lost. I followed her, without letting her out of my sight, until she met someone who had been looking for her. She explained to me that the woman had Alzheimer’s and had left the institution she was in, because the back door had been torn off by the hurricane. The electrical generator wasn’t working and it was just too hot for her. When I got back home I spoke with a friend who distributes gasoline. He promised me that he would take some to them for their generator. I contacted someone else who went to repair the door. Now the door is secure again.”
“Yesterday I got in line early, at five o’clock in the morning, to buy some gas. I could see a bus in the rear-view mirror of my car. I knew it would be a long wait, so I had time to observe them. In the driver’s seat there was a very angry man who continued to curse and swear. Next to him there was a woman, perhaps his wife. An awful smell of tobacco smoke was pouring out of the driver’s window.
The line ahead of me was moving slowly – around twenty cars. As if that wasn’t enough, the news began to spread that the gas station would open only at eight and not six as I had thought. As I waited, the woman approached me and asked if I would help her to move the bus, because her husband had left and her feet didn’t reach the pedals. At first I refused, with the excuse that I wasn’t able to drive a bus. But the true reason was something else: I just didn’t like the way that man was acting. I realized I had to change my attitude and welcome her request as if Jesus himself had made it. When the driver returned, I explained that I was the one who had moved his bus at the request of his wife. He began to let off steam, describing all his problems to me, for the next three hours. By the time we were finished filling up on gas, he was a completely different person. We shook hands. I had managed to overcome my prejudice.”
“The street I live on was completely blocked with debris and uprooted trees. Most of my neighbors are old and frail. I began wondering what would happen if any of them needed an ambulance. So I started to saw tree trunks and move them off the road. Seeing that I had taken the initiative, a group of people came to help me and together we cleared the road. In the end, we had lunch together sharing among us the little we had.”
“We wanted to share water and food with our neighbors. That meant our own reserves were dwindling, but the relationship among us was growing stronger”