Disaster Relief Volunteers Take on Old and New in Puerto Rico

Julie H. Case

Oct. 21, 2022: One month after Hurricane Fiona ravaged the island, Team Rubicon doubles down.

Six years after Hurricane Maria and one month after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, disaster relief volunteers find themselves addressing damage done after the first hurricane while responding to the second.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the homes that we’re finding still have tarps up from Hurricane Maria,” says Team Rubicon Operations Assistant Edith Alvarez-Garcia. While the veteran-led disaster response nonprofit says the ideal length of time a tarp should be relied upon is 30 days, many hurricane survivors in the U.S. are left living with tarped roofs for years. 

Greyshirts remove debris near a home in Puerto Rico. Photo by Carlos Chiossone.

Aging tarps are just an obvious indication of the unmet needs remaining after Hurricane Maria.

“There was actually a homeowner who hasn’t had power or water for six years, since Maria hit,” says Alvarez-Garcia of a man the organization assisted. “It was a little surreal to try and wrap our heads around how that was even possible.” 

Expedient roof repair—tarping—is the primary service Team Rubicon volunteers, or Greyshirts, are providing in Puerto Rico now, followed by chainsaw work and debris removal. At present, Greyshirts are going through roughly 25 tarps a day. 

“A lot of the municipalities have handed out tarps, however, they don’t have the capacity to have them installed,” explains Alvarez-Garcia. “So, the responsibilities are mainly falling on the homeowners. The issue with that is that a lot of the local contractors who are able or skilled enough to do the installations are overcharging now that they know it’s in such dire need.”

In conjunction with local emergency managers, Greyshirts have been stepping in to help ensure as many roofs are tarped as possible, at no cost to the homeowner, before the next storm arrives. 

As of October 20, 101 work orders had been completed in Puerto Rico by Team Rubicon volunteers, and at least 90 more are scheduled or pending scheduling. 

Greyshirts are also taking on the issue of clean water and delivering water filters to communities across the island. By October 15, Team Rubicon had provided potable drinking water to more than 830 people. After the next shipment of 500 Sawyer filters arrives, the organization will expand the program, delivering in total 750 filters to Puerto Ricans, each at a 100-gallon capacity.

Greyshirts take a break while providing expedient home repair services in Puerto Rico. Photo by Carlos Chiossone.
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