Below are excerpts from a digital journal being kept by Rick Asselta, a JGI volunteer and friend of Jane Goodall’s, chronicling the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Rick is credited as one of the earliest Roots & Shoots mentors having collaborated with Jane and others on the development of the program in the early 1990s. Rick and his wife, Nelly, established a robust Roots & Shoots network in Connecticut before they moved to Puerto Rico where they continue to share Jane’s message with local youth and Rick serves as the volunteer coordinator of Roots & Shoots Caribbean.
This is Part 1 of a series. Once published, the full series will be available here.
The good news is we survived. The hurricane hit our part of Puerto Rico directly. It went through Maunabo and our farm like a bulldozer. People often say that these storms sound like a freight train. This one was the whole railroad. The description of 166 mph winds with gusts over 200 doesn’t begin to tell the terrifying power of sound and fury, houses ripped apart, 200-year-old trees weighing tons ripped up, palm trees, bamboo groves, entire forests gone. The mountains that were green and beautiful now look like skeletons of downed or stripped trees. All crops, sugar cane, breadfruit, mangos, coffee, plantains, bananas, citrus trees, gone.
Houses, businesses, churches, power and phone lines demolished. Bridges and roads washed out. Not just Maunabo and our farm, the whole Island. Power and phones out. flooding, all roads impassable with downed trees and power poles and wires. High tension lines down, cell towers gone.Much more but, as they say.
There’s good news and bad news. Good news: very few deaths. Ordinary people out helping clear roads, debris, helping each other and workers, police, rescuing sick and elderly. Neighbors banding together to clear roads move trees off houses, share food and water. At night, total darkness, complete quiet. People bathing and washing in streams like 100 years ago.
Worst part after destruction? Not able to call out going on 5 days and not being able to get anywhere with roads closed. We’re clearing downed trees, especially coconut palms. Salvaging whatever fruits or vegetables are on the ground. Rebuilding chicken coop.Some neighbors come up to help us. We give them water and do a BBQ.
Went to the bank to get cash. No credit cards are functioning and all purchases are cash only. The line at the bank is very long. People socializing and then a small group breaks into song and the whole line joins in. Very Puerto Rican. Gas is limited to $10 purchase and the waiting time at some stations is hours. The latest information is that the government in cooperation with US agencies will try to set up temporary power stations and cell towers. The entire infrastructure of the island will have to be rebuilt from scratch.