Airlink & partner NECHAMA continue recovery efforts in Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria tore through the Caribbean with monumental force and destruction on September 20, 2017. The winds peeled off roofs as the rains flooded homes and prompted landslides.
Disaster response organization Airlink, with support from five partner airlines, moved more than 200 passengers and 44 tons of relief supplies across 29 nonprofits in response to the storm – totaling more than $344,000 in transportation costs saved for responding nonprofits. Airlink connects humanitarian relief organizations to airlines to deliver responders and supplies in the wake of disaster.
“Thanks to Airlink, we have been able to book flights quickly. We would not have gotten three-quarters of the volunteers down there if it wasn’t for Airlink,” says Dorothy Maples, Operations Director for NECHAMA Jewish Response to Disaster.
“In disaster response, we move quickly to meet the urgent needs of those affected, but in the months and years following an event like Maria, the recovery process is crucial to the resiliency of the towns, cities, and countries affected,” says Airlink Humanitarian Programs Manager Stephanie Steege. “Supporting disaster response organizations like NECHAMA, Airlink and its aviation partners are able to directly contribute to the recovery process.”
Building Toward Recovery
In Puerto Rico, nearly 3,000 people were killed as a result of the storm, according to a recent George Washington University study. Maria’s impact on the island is still very real today as survivors continue to pick up the pieces of their former paradise.
NECHAMA Jewish Response to Disaster is a nonprofit partner of Airlink, and one that has launched a full scale recovery effort in Puerto Rico to help those still rebuilding.
“The recovery process is a long one, it takes years,” says Maples. “When first arriving on the island in February, there were still power poles down in the road with live wires dangling. I am not sure I have ever seen anything like this so long after a storm. The storm destroyed a lot of the trees and lush vegetation… it looks barren.”
NECHAMA volunteers are on month eight of their Rebuild Program devoted to repairing concrete roofs, rebuilding tin roofs, completing other home repairs, and using chainsaws to remove debris. One year after the storm, they’ve been able to assist in repairing more than 60 homes.
The Reason for Assistance
Eusebio is one of many locals affected by the devastation of Maria. NECHAMA staff and volunteers met him while repairing his home and others in his neighborhood. A third generation living in his family home, Eusebio’s house was in desperate need of repairs.
“One day [NECHAMA] arrived, offering us all their help. Not only are they helping us, but I have rarely met people so kind and so loving, wanting to help,” Eusebio recalls. “We are without words for the help NECHAMA has [given] us. They are beautiful people and we love them.”
Overcoming the Challenges
The rebuild in Puerto Rico isn’t without challenges. NECHAMA and other organizations continue to confront a lack of available supplies on the island as well as a shortage of vehicles for rent. They’ve also had to work hard to recruit a steady stream of volunteers.
“It is hard to get volunteers when they don’t understand there is still such a large need. When it is in the news and covered by the media, it is easy to see what need there is,” NECHAMA says. “Still, a year after the storm there is a lot of work to be done and we need volunteers to make it happen.”
Fortunately, NECHAMA’s volunteer base is committed to recovery and Airlink’s assistance in mobilizing staff is invaluable in organizing those volunteers and empowers a strong, long-term response.
“Airlink continues to make it possible for NECHAMA to quickly get staff on the ground working. NECHAMA’s partnership with Airlink allows us to save money on flights, which allows us to fund our projects longer and assist more people in need.”
Airlink, with Signature Lead partner United Airlines as well as JetBlue, has supported 42 NECHAMA staff flights into Puerto Rico – translating to $34,000 saved for this small, volunteer-powered organization. The two organizations continue working together on the Maria recovery effort, with ongoing Airlink-supported NECHAMA flights expected into 2019. Airlink and NECHAMA respond to the most recent major storm – Hurricane Florence.