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US Volunteers a crucial lifeline in Puerto Rico's remote areas

00:40  18 january  2018
00:40  18 january  2018 Source:   nbcnews.com

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Almost four months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico , volunteers are still serving as crucial lifelines for residents of remote areas that are difficult to reach. In these areas , volunteers like Nicole Bonilla are a crucial lifeline , especially for older and ill residents.

In these areas without power and water, volunteers like 28-year-old Nicole Bonilla are a crucial lifeline , especially for older and ill residents. If they don’t have it, they’re going to die; slowly, but they’re going to die,” says Bonilla, who has been volunteering in Puerto Rico full time since early

Dec. 9, 2017 - Frank Tolentino walks down a road in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico to deliver supplies to residents with no electricity or potable water. © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Dec. 9, 2017 - Frank Tolentino walks down a road in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico to deliver supplies to residents with no electricity or potable water.

SAN LORENZO, Puerto Rico — As Puerto Ricans struggle to get back on their feet nearly four months after Hurricane Maria, some parts of the island feel like the devastating storm just happened — no power, no water and little access to provisions.

In these areas, volunteers like Nicole Bonilla are a crucial lifeline, especially for older and ill residents.

"The biggest need I've seen is [people] not having their medication. If they don't have it, they're going to die; slowly, but they're going to die." said, Bonilla, 28, as she visited a household and treated an elderly resident.

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That’ s too large to determine operational capacity but helpful to triage, especially areas which have not been reached in person, relative to their physical conditions. Damage assessment map for post-Maria Puerto Rico based on remote sensing and input from GIScorps volunteers .

In remote areas of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico , volunteers are a lifeline . Almost four months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico , volunteers are still serving as crucial lifelines for residents of remote areas that are difficult to reach.

Bonilla is a nurse from the mountain town of San Lorenzo, in the eastern central part of the island. Right after the storm, on her days off from her job at Ryder Hospital in Humacao, she would trudge through brush and debris in remote towns and knock on random doors, delivering supplies to people who had dwindling amounts of food, water, and medicine.

In early December, Bonilla lost her job at the hospital. The largest facility in the area, Ryder, was so badly damaged after Maria that entire sections had to be closed down. That's when she began volunteering full-time.

Each day, Bonilla ventures out either on her own or as part of a group with a non-profit or her church. She picks up donated aid, loads it into the trunk of her car, and goes out to find people.

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Almost four months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico , volunteers are still serving as crucial lifelines for residents of remote areas that are difficult to reach.

RELATED: In remote areas of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico , volunteers are a lifeline . Since then, Luratti has chained all the gates and doors of her parents’ home with two locks, and also added a solar light in the front yard that turns on when someone walks by.

"Every time I talk to someone that is high in the mountains, they say they haven't seen anyone to help them," she said.

RELATED: Anger grows and hope fades as Puerto Rico's ground zero remains without power

Close to 40 percent of the island's power company's customers still do not have electricity, according to, status.pr, a website that tracks the island's infrastructure, making daily life daunting. Some mountainous areas are going to be without electricity for up to eight months, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The hard-to-reach rural areas, will bear the brunt, and are not expected to get power until the end of May.

The areas expected to take the longest are the towns of Lares, Utuado and Adjuntas, that together have a population of 80,000. The U.S. military's hurricane response formally ended its mission in November after clearing roads, attending to medical emergencies and helping restore communications.

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Carlos Reyes, the owner-operator of San Juan, Puerto Rico ’ s Isla Grande Flying School at Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport, said the general aviation airfield, also known as Isla Grande, has played a crucial role in relief efforts since Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow Sept.

A group of volunteers from the U. S . and Puerto Rico prepare to clean a church that was heavily flooded during Hurricane Maria. Days into the disaster, bags full of rice, beans, oil, salt, water, tomato sauce and other supplies began arriving in some of the hardest-hit areas of Puerto Rico .

Because there are so many people in isolated areas, it's not always easy to find them.

"It's a big challenge — how to find people who are difficult to get, how to walk 2 hours just to get a family, how to reach the unreachable people," said Frank Tolentino, a pastor at an evangelical church called Ministerio Cristiano Catacumba, in Caguas.

His congregation totals 90 to 100 people and each Saturday, he travels throughout the island with several members, as well as volunteers from other churches, and distributes aid. On Sundays, he focuses on helping residents in his hometown.

Tolentino said he is thankful for the enormous amount of donations he has received, mostly from churches in Miami and Orlando. He doesn't always know the groups that are sending aid, but the packages continue arriving, and volunteers find families who desperately need the help.

Although over half the island has power, those people are concentrated in cities, explained Tolentino. "But the other 50 percent is spread in 95 percent of the island. The reality is more complex."

Right after Hurricane Maria, many parts of the island were physically cut off as roadways were impassable for government help, including FEMA. In these neighborhoods, non-profits such as churches and neighborhood associations played a crucial role, life-saving role.

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Volunteers across the globe are filling in maps of Puerto Rico . How do humanitarian workers use them? Share. Delivery of food and other necessities, especially to remote areas , has been hampered by a variety of ills, including a lack of cellular service, washed-out roads, additional rainfall

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico , aid workers are still struggling to deliver supplies like water and medicine–and if bad roads, fuel shortages, and downed power lines have made it difficult to get anywhere on the island, some remote areas are still completely inaccessible.

Dec. 9, 2017 - A woman waits for a volunteer nurse to perform a check-up at her house in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. She and her family have been using a generator to power her oxygen tank. © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Dec. 9, 2017 - A woman waits for a volunteer nurse to perform a check-up at her house in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. She and her family have been using a generator to power her oxygen tank.

"If it hadn't been for the network of volunteers and the interest of those of us in Puerto Rico, with the help of those outside the island, the catastrophe would have been greater," said Cecille Blondet, the executive director of Espacios Abiertos or Open Spaces, an advocacy group that is calling for more transparency in government, part of the Open Society Foundation.

Espacios Abiertos has distributed over 2.6 million pounds of aid, and with a staff of five, has relied heavily on volunteers to get aid to those in need, according to Blondet.

Volunteers like Bonilla hope the residents they are helping are not forgotten.

"We are trying to do our best, but I think we might need a little bit of help," she said.

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Hurricane-Torn Puerto Rico Says It Can’t Pay Any of Its Debts for 5 Years .
The island expects its budget to be $2 billion to $3 billion in the red, a deficit that will take five years to shrink. By then, he said, the cumulative effect of tough economic austerity measures will help the island’s government achieve a balanced budget, as required by the federal oversight board that controls Puerto Rico’s troubled finances.Sign Up For the Morning Briefing NewsletterPuerto Rico submitted an updated fiscal plan to the board, including the five-year debt moratorium.

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