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Joseph’s First Two Days in Puerto Rico

Near San Juan, it is still wreckage, October 30, 2017.  Photo courtesy of Joseph Mangum

Near San Juan, it was still just wreckage on October 30, 2017, 40 days after landfall. Photo courtesy of Joseph Mangum.

By George Harvey

Readers may recognize the name of Joseph Mangum, of Sunnyside Solar in West Brattleboro, Vermont. An earlier article about his work to set up solar systems in Puerto Rico was in the article, “Help from Vermont is on its way to Puerto Rico!” appeared on October 27 at the Green Energy Times website. Now, four days later, we have news that Joseph has arrived with his friend Mark Lamoureux, and they starting work, though with a few serious glitches.

Joseph’s first email from the island arrived yesterday, after he had gone to an uncle’s house. FEMA had set a tarp on the roof a week ago and still delivers food every day, but FEMA is expected to go as soon as the situation is somewhat stabilized. It has been over a month, and a few people are back to work.

The wreckage from the hurricane has been cleared to sides of roads, but there is no service to pick the piles up. Many people are out of work, living in damaged homes, with small cabin-size piles of trash where their kids once played. Joseph said, “The people are as friendly as before, but their resting faces speak volumes of exhaustion and anguish.”

Generators are running all over Jan Juan, and it is difficult to sleep. The breezes that used to be refreshing now carry them the exhaust fumes from small internal combustion machines. “Environmentally speaking, it is a horrendous affair, but who can blame anyone for trying any way to support their families?”

Joseph’s concern, however, is for the people of the interior. “Everyone we have met has told me the center of the island has been forgotten. People are arriving daily, fleeing to San Juan. There are still isolated communities everywhere. We have been told of one in Barranquitas that requires a river crossing (bridge collapses are everywhere) followed with a 2 hour hike because of the steep terrain. The entire road collapsed into the valley due to mudslides.

They were preparing to pick up the solar panels and go to the “forgotten” center on the next day. When they do, communication might be lost because there might be no internet connection. But the center of the island is a place Joseph cannot get off his mind.

A new day arrived, but things have not gone as expected. This should not be very surprising, given the prevailing circumstances.

“Yesterday did not go as planned,” Joseph said. “We waited at my friends mothers house in Guaynabo for the delivery of panels. After a few hours we went to get gas and check internet for delivery status. We waited only 20 minutes for gas, but discovered the panels were still at the UPS central hub in San Juan.”

Now having to contact Mario, one of Joseph’s many contacts, because they were shipped in his name, so they set off for Junco, which is on the way. Joseph has a relative named Abuela who lives there and one of her neighbors, Mingo, is to get a solar generator. He is the local handy man. He has been hard at work helping people, but has to work without power tools. With a solar generator, he will be able to recharge his tools’ batteries, and this is important for of rebuilding the area. Of course all of the solar generators Joseph is installing are for public use; Mingo is just a designated caretaker with easy access.

Juncos is wrecked. Forty one days after Maria, there are still downed poles, huge, twisted scraps of metal roofs that have been discarded, washouts, and massive piles of brown and decaying vegetation.

Joseph left food for people at Mingo’s house, as community meals are prepared by Mingo’s wife Gina. She makes a living preparing food at her farm and selling to workers in the pueblo central during the day.

Without electricity for traffic lights, the roads looked like chaos, but Joseph said things moved more smoothly than he had ever remembered. That is a bit of a surprise.

The UPS hub has a glass atrium. Joseph thinks that with A/C running, it is probably lovely. But it is now running on a single, barely vented, gas generator to power a computer. One person had to tend to the needs of a hundred people in a line for packages. Deliveries are mostly unavailable island-wide, and lots of folks have families sending everything from generators to beds to undeliverable addresses. So here, the chaos was real.

After sweating to a dehydrated state for six hours in a room that stank of sweat and portable toilets, they were told that the panels were not ready for pickup. They went back to Abuela’s for dinner and heat relief from San Juan. Although it was approaching 9 pm, Abuela quickly reheated a wonderful on the spot dinner for them. Joseph said he got a much better nights rest despite the nonsense at UPS.

They went to a Burger King in Juncos, which is powered by a generator, just to use wifi. It was packed. They checked UPS tracking, and found that despite the long wait and a request to expedite the panels, panels were still in same place and could not be picked up. The solar generators will have to wait, if they cannot get the panels, but Joseph and his friends will not be useless. Losing most of a day driving around, doing nonsense logistics, was bad enough.

Everywhere he went, Joseph found the stories were the same. The people in the mountains do not have food or clean water. So after a quick check in with UPS on the phone, they decided they would continue working with or without the panels. They are going to a restocked store in Condado, an affluent tourist area, to buy as much food as they can pack, and they will take it and lifestraws they took on the plane down into the mountains.

(If anyone wants to help and knows how to convince UPS to get the packages out for pickup, they can let me know. I have the contact and tracking information. – George, geoharvey@aol.com)

Joseph is patiently, but persistently trying to set five 1-kilowatt solar systems that were funded by the first $5,000 the site raised at the Sunnyside Solar gofundme site. These systems are being put up at the unheard-of price of $1 per watt. The campaign is still going on, and any donations will fund more solar systems. It can be visited at www.gofundme.com/solargens4pr.

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