81ºF

Puerto Ricans remain strong, optimistic in wake of hurricane destruction

Vic Micolucci returns to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged island

This is the woman in the mountains who lost her entire home. She has lived on the mainland before, in New York, but she says she is not leaving Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is her home and she is proud of it, despite what has happened.
This is the woman in the mountains who lost her entire home. She has lived on the mainland before, in New York, but she says she is not leaving Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is her home and she is proud of it, despite what has happened.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thankful. It’s a term many of us use especially over the holidays. But do we really practice what we preach? Do we appreciate what we have?

Sometimes you have to look at others – who are remaining optimistic even in trying times.

I was in Puerto Rico days after Hurricane Maria tore through the island. I saw so much pain and suffering, but also so much strength. This month, I had the opportunity to return to the territory 3 months after the storm struck the US territory.

The Category 5 storm put a beating on Puerto Rico, leaving damage and devastation all across the island.

Maria knocked out power, water and crops all over and three months later, many parts of the territory still haven’t recovered. It’s a humanitarian crisis.

When we returned, we still found people without electricity, clean water and food. Even simple things like a roof over their head were gone.

74-year-old Irma Torres’ home is teetering over the ocean. She and her husband have no money to make repairs and the outlook is grim. But she was thankful for neighbors, friends and outsiders.

“I am very thankful,” she told me, fighting to smile after telling me she’s depressed.

A group of doctors, nurses and pharmacists from North Florida recently visited the hardest hit areas. The “Friends of the Missions” non-profit offered free medical care and medications to hundreds of people in the city of Yabucoa, in the southeast. It was a lifeline to 65-year-old Alex Diaz.

“I’m thankful to the outside help,” the former Puerto Rican olympic volleyball player told me. “There’s so many people that have come and helped us.”

He told us he’s been out of his meds, stranded in the mountains with no utilities. His health was deteriorating rapidly.

The medical professionals say they are thankful to make a difference.​

“Just the human touch and letting them know that we care, it’s a big deal,” said volunteer and physician Ray Pumarejo. Pumarejo is a pulmonologist for St. Vincent’s Health Care in Jacksonville, but was born in Puerto Rico.

“It will make us stronger not only physically, mentally, but spiritually too,” Friends of the Mission’s Medical Director Santiago Rosado Rodriquez said.

“It is just this wonderful sense of putting your life into perspective.” added volunteer nurse Mary McCormick.

Life truly is about perspective. We met so many Puerto Ricans who lost just about everything they owned who were happy to have a meal, a helping hand and an opportunity to rebuild.

It’s far from over, but they know they can weather this storm by sticking together.

 “Puerto Ricans are very strong people,” explained Catholic Bishop Eusebio Morales. “We are here! We are here with hope, with faith.”

NOTE: This is the first of several stories about our trip back to Puerto Rico. Find out more about how the doctors, nurses and pharmacists from North Florida were able to help the hardest hit people Wednesday, December 27 at 5:15 p.m. on News4Jax.


About the Author: