At a remote crossroads high in Puerto Rico’s Cordillera Central mountains, crowds on Saturday lined up with buckets and bottles to get rare, purified water from a tank in the back of a pickup truck brought by a Louisville-based WaterStep team, who worked until after dark purifying tanks in a town forced to use river water since Hurricane Maria took the country’s water systems offline.
“No one has come to help us, only you,” said one 63-year-old woman, wiping tears as she watched her dirty yard tank transformed into safe water for cooking, bathing and drinking.
Flowing water and music from a cantina created a joyful atmosphere on the latest day of WaterStep’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico setting up safe water systems. Locals spilled out of houses and shops to watch and thank WaterStep members Mark Hogg, Larry Freibert, Joe Jacobi, Bill Parker and Lynn Smith, who scrambled up ladders and used the M100 and BleachMaker to treat barrels of rain and river water.
In order to continue to combat the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, WaterStep and the National Puerto Rico Leadership Council Education Fund are working hard to raise funds to install WaterStep’s purification kits in all 78 Puerto Rican municipalities. The first 22 have been deployed with the WaterStep team and are being installed. To donate, please visit www.waterstep.org/donate-2 and write Disaster Relief in the additional comments section.
“It is a blessing to have Mark and our Board Member Alexandra Lugaro’s grassroots logistical skills working as a team to bring these life-saving water purification systems to my people in Puerto Rico” Carlos R. Guzman, president/CEO NPRLCEF, Inc
The WaterStep team in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico on Thursday saw its first disaster water purifier system installed by a community near Vega Baja, bringing as much as 10,000 gallons of safe water a day to the neighborhood where municipal water isn’t safe or has shut down.
“The water comes and goes,” Manuel Class, a community leader of Vega Baja. “Now it’s easy for people to have water and take it home.” In a barrio of Vega Baja, where bottled water is difficult to find and water trucks are rare in a city of 55,000 every few days, many take buckets, bottles and drums to a natural body of water called Ojo de Agua where children swim, people bathe and which contains trash and runoff.
“There’s a huge potential for it to pick up all kinds of pathogens associated with animals, with human waste, food waste – all sorts of threats that make the water unsafe to drink,” said WaterStep member Bill Parker, who accompanied community leaders who installed the system. “The community itself has no idea when their municipal water supply will be safe for them to utilize. So going forward they have a simple, easy-to-use system that will make the water safe for as long as it needs to be.”
The new system made its first 300 gallons within a few hours. On Friday, WaterStep continued its training sessions for more municipalities still struggling nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria.
Nairy Maysonet sat by the edge of a Puerto Rican mountain highway washing laundry in a drainage ditch. Nearby, a school teacher joined a stream of residents who stopped to fill bottles, buckets and plastic storage bins from a rainwater runoff pipe.
Weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, most still lack electricity and many don’t have access to safe, clean water. Maysonet struggles to cook and bathe, and she shook her head explaining that stomach viruses from bad water are spreading in her small town.
“We need clean water, so it’s very hard,” she said on Wednesday, wringing out a shirt as trucks roared past the mountainside and one man soaped up nearby for a bath. “Some places you can buy water, other days no water.”
Louisville-based WaterStep is currently on the ground to help, arriving October 10 in the town of Vega Alta to provide water purification systems including M100 chlorine generators, 500-gallon bladder tanks, filters, pumps and bleachmakers and the training to operate them in 22 hard-hit and remot municipalities.
WaterStep founder Mark Hogg said Wednesday, the first of two days of training, that he hopes to find funding to deploy them to all 78 municipalities, bringing safe water for thousands in areas where bottled water hasn’t sufficiently reached until water systems can be repaired.
Update and photos from the field, by Chris Kenning.
WaterStep is currently on the ground to help, arriving October 10 in the town of Vega Alta to provide water purification systems including M100 chlorine generators, 500-gallon bladder tanks, filters, pumps and bleachmakers and the training to operate them in 22 hard-hit and remote municipalities.
The WaterStep team is staying at the Presbyterian Church in Vega Alta, its roof damaged by the storm, sleeping in tents and on camping pads in a breezeway with electricity from a generator. On the first day of training, dozens showed up from municipalities in hard-hit areas. As they learned how to purify water, officials from General Electric Appliances and local media visited the site. Friday will bring the second day of training. So far, the WaterStep effort has drawn an outpouring of support from the community, including volunteer translators.
Puerto Rico is in a state of crisis and WaterStep is responding by sending equipment to provide safe drinking water and disinfectant. In the wake of Hurricane Maria mass flooding and destruction have put thousands of people on the island at risk for disease and children are dying from dehydration. Puerto Rico officials have identified safe water as a top priority. Puerto Rican survivors need safe water in order to survive, manage this disaster, maintain good health, and rebuild their communities.
Through generous partners like Agape Flights, G.E. Appliances and the Puerto Rican Leadership Council, WaterStep is sending its first 20 Disaster Relief Kits to San Juan, Puerto Rico next week. The city officials of San Juan will accept the equipment and provide security for the equipment, and our WaterStep Disaster Relief Team. Once the equipment and team are in country, WaterStep will hold a training event where they will educate emergency response teams on the operation of the Disaster Relief Kits.
When disaster strikes:
Medical care cannot be safely administered without proper sanitation.
Families who managed to survive the disaster are at risk of death by waterborne illness.
Displaced individuals are now at risk of losing their identities.
Collapse of infrastructure also causes collapse in income and education.
WaterStep has created and deployed affordable, effective and sustainable solutions in various international disasters since 2009. At the onset of any disaster, many agencies work hard to collect and deliver bottled water to disaster survivors. Though an important step, there are critical problems with bottled water long term – it’s expensive, heavy, and it’s not sustainable. Three cases of bottled water weighs 90lbs, and WaterStep’s disaster relief kit weighs >100lbs and can produce thousands of gallons of safe drinking water each day.
Support the survivors by providing access to safe water and sanitation by donating NOW. When giving online, please write Disaster Relief in the additional comments section. Please follow @WaterStep on social media to receive updates on their disaster relief work in Puerto Rico.
Questions? Please contact CEO & Founder, Mark Hogg.