ViequesLove: How Our Own Chris Harper Survived Maria and Ways to Help

By Emerson Associate Director, Chris Harper

Vieques Puerto Rico

Our associate director Chris Harper lives with his husband, John, in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Vieques is an island just off the east coast of the main island. For those who don’t know Chris, he used to be a client, became a friend, and has been part of our Emerson team pretty much since we started the company. Many of you know and love Chris and have been worried about his and John’s well-being. I’m attaching a message from him below. If you want to be part of Vieques’ recovery, please check out ViequesLove. – Trish Emerson

Hi everyone.

Thank you to my family and friends for your thoughts and well wishes as I recover from a life uprooted. John and I were able to leave Vieques yesterday. Thankfully, I had a planned trip to Dallas for one of my clients and that flight was not cancelled. I rerouted to New York and am now here. John was able to make flight arrangements through our neighbor’s wife. So we are back on the mainland together.

Lacking communication with loved ones was one of the hardest things. We knew we were safe, our house was safe, we had plenty of food and water set aside, and that life on island was calm and orderly. And we could only surmise how the media was portraying the aftermath. Things were far worse on the main island, and that was the media coverage. Many houses in our neighborhood are made of concrete, like ours. So the structures remained intact. While in some cases windows or doors blew out, none of ours did, even though we didn’t have hurricane shutters. (Note to self: get hurricane shutters.) The majority of wooden structures were decimated: roofs torn off, walls blown in, belongings strewn about the neighborhood. Most of the people I spoke with had the attitude of “I’m alive.” Things can be replaced. People cannot.

This isn’t to say that infrastructure is OK. It isn’t. On our block alone, there are three downed power poles (of four). Two of them are in our yard and crushed our fence. There is a power cable spanning the two of them that is stuck on our balcony railing. AT&T cell service (and no other carrier) came on in one location on island a few days ago, but there is no data connection and voice calls were very difficult to get through; texting was fine. Water was out for 11 days, came back on for three and then went out the day before we left.

All purchases are cash-only and there are only two banks on island. If you don’t have an account at either bank, you can’t get any cash. We waited in line at our bank for two hours to get cash. Gasoline (at our three gas stations) comes once in a while and is rationed. Before the storm, I waited in line for a couple hours and filled four five-gallon tanks and the car. After the storm, I waited five hours one day, then two hours another day and got gas.

Food is coming over from the main island, but again it’s cash-only at the grocery stores. Most local residents are on food stamps and that runs through the credit card validation system. So many people are reliant on MRE packs and food they are receiving from various support agencies. One day, a relief organization gave us a box of “food” and water. Food is in quotes because it consisted of 12 bags of chips, 12 three-ounce envelopes of peanut butter, 12 pudding cups, and 12 cookie packets. It was like a 12-year-ld went to 7/11 to buy “supplies.”

Information from the municipality is non-existent and, when in place, is inaccurate. Three days before leaving, one official told me that the San Juan airport was a military base with no commercial flights. The next day, we went to the Vieques airport and one of the carriers said they had started running flights from San Juan two days prior. Misinformation is worse than “I don’t know.”

I gotta say that the hurricane itself was the most frightening thing I’ve experienced. At 3:30 am the day of, we got out of bed and sat in the middle of our house away from windows and doors. The wind was rattling our doors so much that we could feel the vibration in the center of the house. It shook our clothing. We have a ten-foot span of folding doors that will have to be replaced. Other doors also got damaged from the constant battering. The force of the wind pulled the water out of the toilets and they made a continuous sucking sound. We have a steel bar gate with wooden inserts; it now has a curved shape to it. The windows and doors leaked water and it flooded into the house. When the winds subsided around 7:00 am we started to sweep it and squeegee it out under the doors. By early afternoon, we were able to get outside, but the wind was still so strong, we felt a little off balance. Not a leaf was left on any tree. Downed limbs and trees everywhere. Did I mention the power poles?

I could go on for hours. But I will spare you.

There is a group with a gofundme set up that is directly supporting the people of Vieques. It’s called ViequesLove and is associated with a 501 c(3) charity organization on island. I know the people involved in it and they are very caring people. If you can spare a few bucks, it would help our island recover.

I’m looking forward to reintegrating myself into the real world and work life. Hope to connect with you all soon!

—Chris

The Emerson Blog

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