SPECTRAFORCE Puerto Rico: Surviving Hurricane Maria 4th Anniversary

By Odalys Mercado on September 17, 2021

KEY POINTS:

  • About the tropical cyclone
  • Puerto Rico Rises Up / Puerto Rico Se Levanta
  • SPECTRAFORCE strong
  • SPECTRAFORCE Puerto Rico team’s testimony
  • Call to the Community

ABOUT THE TROPICAL CYCLONE

Hurricane Maria occurred on September 20, 2017. Listed as a “deadly tropical cyclone,” Hurricane Maria ranks as the third most expensive tropical cyclone globally with 90 billion dollars in damage. Hurricane Maria is considered the worst natural disaster in the history of Puerto Rico, which was the country most affected after the passage of Hurricane Maria. It reached Category 5 with sustained winds of 175 miles per hour. It is estimated that the direct and indirect human losses due to this Hurricane on Puerto Rico’s island are up to 4,645 deaths. (Harvard University, New England Journal of Medicine, July 12, 2018)

Wake of Devastation

In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria collapsed all telecommunications and the entire country’s electrical system.” As and a large part of the country’s water pumps. As a result, all Puerto Ricans suffered months without electricity or the possibility of communication with others. Also, a large part of the families did not have access to water for long months. Even 1½ years after Hurricane Maria passed, families were still without electricity or restored water in their homes.

In Puerto Rico, families were heartbroken by the death of their loved ones, the loss of their homes, and not knowing the status of their loved ones outside and inside the island. It was practically impossible to move around the area, to reach certain places or towns on the island. Poles, trees, floods, and landslides surrounded the streets. The trucks could not bring enough supplies and aid to the communities, and the time in the lines to buy gasoline lasted up to more than 24 hours. Puerto Ricans fell into despair; the feeling of helplessness and sadness undermined the island due to the extreme need.

PUERTO RICO RISES UP / PUERTO RICO SE LEVANTA

However, the fighting spirit and solidarity in times of difficulty are qualities that most characterize the “Puerto Rican.” As expected, they put “hands-on” and launched to the streets to work for themselves, for their survival, without waiting for government aid that did not arrive. As weeks went by, Puerto Ricans joined together, and artists and businesses both small and large – the whole world mobilized. Neighbors created community groups where they voluntarily joined together to make streets passable again, save people trapped, and carry supplies to the places of need. It was there that the birth of a new Puerto Rican motto, “Puerto Rico Se Levanta” (Puerto Rico Rises Up), arrived.

SPECTRAFORCE STRONG

As SPECTRAFORCE Puerto Rico employees, we greatly appreciate SPECTRAFORCE (SPF). Because when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the SPF team immediately announced that although more than 400 of their contractors would not be able to work, they would continue to pay their weekly wages. SPECTRAFORCE also partnered with a large pharmaceutical client in the United States and sent a plane loaded with large quantities of food, water, and critical products to Puerto Rico to distribute to our employees. Likewise, SPF established mental health hotlines for its employees. Nothing was more important to SPF than helping its workers and their families as much as possible during this devastating time. SPECTRAFORCE values ​​and goes above and beyond for their employees!

To each member of the SPECTRAFORCE family, and to all the others who together put a grain of sand in rebuilding Puerto Rico and helping its people, our island will always thank you and always wish you health, safety, and prosperity!

TEAM TESTIMONIES

Diana Plasencia

When the hurricane hit, I was in my husband’s grandparents’ house. Before the Hurricane came to PR, I had that feeling that something was going to occur. So, I explained to my children what happens during hurricanes. My son asked me why this happens and what will happen to those who lose their homes.  

I was afraid for my children and their reactions. I lost everything that my husband and I built. It is the material things and the emotional impact on my family, especially on my husband, kids, and animals. At the time, we had two birds and three Great Danes. My husband and kids were shocked when we saw the house without the roof and everything in the water. The only things not in water were the storage food and in my kids’ room, where we kept the cloth and diapers. I thanked God because this was only possible with his coverage, but two days after Hurricane Maria came, one of our dogs (Chapulin) passed away from depression which was terrible for us. My family remembers him like yesterday.

It was hard not only to internalize Maria’s impact in others’ lives but to live it was impressive. I was trying to collect most of the things to move to my mother-in-law’s house, and at the same time had my son in diapers, the loss of Chapulin, my husband without business, my family without a home, and a family situation that marked our lives. I moved my family to my mom’s house and tried to find a good area for the animals. We were living in my mom’s house, without power and water. All the family and friends help us. When I started working, some of our employees lost family members, and they buried family members that passed away in the yard because there was no passage. On the news, people were putting shoes of family members that lost their lives in the Capitol. It was stressful, but at the same time, people started helping each other. I carpooled with Jessica, and we went to Hewlett Packard to process payroll. When the electricity came to my mom’s house, I would freeze water and give it to the employees to keep their refrigerators cold for some time.

Hurricane Maria was a learning experience. But, no matter the situation, there are always new beginnings. I have to thank so many people for their help, donations, and being there for me. 

I only have words of thanks for SPECTRAFORCE. While many did not have work, I did not miss work. I still have the portable fan they sent us. Thanks to Amit Singh (CEO) and Martha Derbyshire (EVP Client Relations) for their donations, today I can say that I have a fridge and stove!! Even though they were not their employees, clients such as HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise treated SPECTRAFORCE like one big family. They even provided pampers for my children without informing my need. They gave my colleagues who accompanied me to work food, water, and necessities (lanterns, etc.). Thanks to my employees that made sure that my family and I had all we needed.  

Carmen Salas

During Hurricane Maria, I was living with my parents and grandfather. I lived on the second floor with them, while on the first floor lived my uncle and aunt. At the time, the house was made of wood with a zinc roof. The Hurricane was expected to arrive around 6:00 a.m., but at 10:00 p.m. in the San Juan area, the wind was so strong we needed to evacuate the house and move to the first floor. At approximately 6:00 a.m., while looking out of the back windows, I saw the roof of our house fall in our neighbor’s backyard. I felt shocked. What’s worst is that I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my mother of what happened. After the Hurricane passed, we went upstairs and when we opened the door, what was left of the roof caved inside the house. Thinking about it now still gives me shivers. 

In the aftermath of the Hurricane, I felt the full support from SPECTRAFORCE, especially from Amit Singh. He called me continuously while the Hurricane was impacting the island and kept checking up on us afterward. We also got care packages from the SPF team. I will be forever grateful for their support. My biggest takeaway from 2017 was that I got to see firsthand how a crisis can bring a whole community together; how we all worked together to strive and move forward.

Jessica Santiago

When the hurricane hit, I stayed at my parent’s house since they didn’t want to stay alone.

At first, I was calm, but there was a moment when the winds were so strong it was scary. Then, seeing how the roofs of some neighbors flew away was very shocking. Where I live, we had no power for two months, but there were areas in Puerto Rico where they had no power for over seven months.

I wouldn’t want to live that experience again. Just thinking about it causes me anxiety.

My perspective after the hurricane is that I must always be prepare for any emergency or any catastrophe that can happen.

I’m grateful to the US and India teams. They helped me so much during our difficult time. In my position, I had to travel anywhere on the island where I could get a connection. Most of the time, I was in one of our client’s facilities which was an hour to three hours drive. It was tough for me to upload payroll because the connection was so poor. I would send payroll the file by email, and they would upload them into Paychex. Being able to provide payments to all our employees to me was more than helpful. I must mention, this wouldn’t happen without the help of our US and India payroll team, especially Joseph, Khushboo, and Dinesh.

CALL TO THE COMMUNITY

Hurricanes do not exist because of global warming, but there is a relationship between the behavior and patterns. Due to greenhouse gases, the waters of the oceans have higher temperatures, which causes hurricanes to become more lethal, with heavier rains and winds, staying higher time in the areas without losing strength, causing more damage.

We once again invite the community to raise awareness about how important it is to take care of our environment, reducing or preferably eliminating those actions that harm the planet and create devastating natural disasters. In addition, we must carry out new sustainable practices that help us reduce the damage and its consequences. For example, using the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), among many other methods that we can do to help reduce global warming and greenhouse gases, protecting the environment with more sustainable actions. The time to act is NOW!

“Maria, you were devastating, an unimaginable force. The Puerto Rican still cries but has an unbreakable soul. “- Long Trip PR

Special thanks to Keyla, Diana, Carmen and Jessica for their collaboration in creation of the essay.

References:

Co-contributor, Keyla Rodriguez Rosa

Carballo, C. (2019, 10 01). Llega Lorenzo: cómo influye el cambio climático en los huracanes. Retrieved from Geenpeace: https://es.greenpeace.org/es/noticias/llega-lorenzo-como-influye-el-cambio-climatico-en-los-huracanes/

Miranda, L.-M. &. (2017, octubre 6). Lin-Manuel Miranda – Almost Like Praying (feat. Artists for Puerto Rico). Retrieved from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1IBXE2G6zw

Puerto Rico, U. P. (2017, octubre 25). ISLA BENDITA (OFFICIAL) UNIDOS POR PUERTO RICO – HURACAN MARIA. Retrieved from Unidos Por Puerto Rico: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVJd_iX_ERw

Richard J. Pasch, A. B. (2019, february 14). NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER – HURRICANE MARIA. Retrieved from National Hurricane Center (NOAA/National Weather Service): https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL152017_Maria.pdf

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