The Puerto Rico Mission

On September 6, Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency: Irma, a category-five-hurricane, had ravaged the island. That same day an 8.2 earthquake struck the Mexican state of Oaxaca —then, on the 19th, another one (7.2) hit the Mexican capital, damaging the nearby states of Morelos and Puebla.

As if this wasn’t enough, Puerto Rico was hit, again, on the 20th, by Hurricane Maria. This time, with catastrophic consequences. All power was lost. Transportation networks, destroyed.

In the CADENA offices, the scene was frenetic. Three evolving crises had to be mitigated, at the same time. In the case of Puerto Rico, the question was how to send help to an island located a thousand miles from our international headquarters in Miami.  Flying there was not an option: the airport had shut down; there was no light, and the central control tower had collapsed.

Nevertheless, Director of International Emergencies, Erika Glanz, managed to get there: “During that first visit, the island was completely dark.” she told me over the phone.

Once on the ground, she was able to verify the needs of the population from reports given to her by the local JCC.  She contacted the Treasury and Customs Department to ensure that a future cargo would get through without any problems. She also established contact with the local ministry of Toa Baja and decided to focus the help on areas that had suffered from up to 25-feet of flooding, due to the outburst of the lake La Plata dam.

Meanwhile, our staff in Miami got in touch with the Jewish community of Cancun and coordinated the buying of 50 tons of help, including gas stoves, solar lamps, batteries,  food, water filters, and chlorine.

600 gas-stoves: part of the 50 tons of humanitarian aid sent to Puerto Rico.

The 12 of October, a private 127-foot yacht departed towards the island with a five-day-estimated time of arrival.

Back in the island, a group of ten volunteers —including psychologists, medics, and humanitarian aid workers from Chile, Mexico City, Miami, and Cancun—waited for the shipment. But the tropical storms continued, forcing the yacht to dock in Santo Domingo and wait for better conditions.

We could not sit there, waiting for the boat to arrive, as a humanitarian emergency evolved before our eyes, so we joined PACIV Foundation, an NGO specialized in providing medical relief. Using helicopters, we got the most remote communities of the island, providing psychological help, installing power generators, and helping cook food.

Six crew-members and 25 volunteers from Toa Baja bring down the help.

On Friday, 27 of October, the boat arrived. Saturday and Sunday, six members of the boat crew and 25 local volunteers from the Toa Baja government unloaded the cargo and jet-skied it into a bus on the shore. We distributed everything in the next four daysm until the darkness forced us to stop.

In total, we delivered 2998 food packages, 600 gas stoves, 1,000 solar-powered lamps; as well as batteries and diapers, to communities in Toabille, Monserrate, Toa Baja, Villa Calma, San José, Ingenio and Valle Seco. We also installed 500 water-filters in schools, medical centers and sports centers, which allowed 90,000 people to have access to clean water; we had 500 more filters which we donated to the PACIV Foundation team, which we trained on how to install.

We are still not done. While we were delivering help, CADENA Miami was raising funds again. Now we have 3 more tons of non-perishable goods that will arrive this week.

A family affected by the overflowing of the Lago La Plata dam.

This is a small chronicle of the latest humanitarian rescue mission of CADENA:

About the Author
Benjamin is the Secretary-General of CADENA: a global Jewish humanitarian relief agency based in Mexico City. He's the winner of the 2020 "Changing the World" Award, awarded by President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.