From Chabad.org by Eric Berger:
Faced with a critical shortage of food, potable water and other urgently needed supplies, Chabad-Lubavitch of Puerto Rico has arranged for private planes to deliver essentials to the devastated island, where disaster relief efforts have faced significant challenges and criticism in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The second flight of the week arrived in San Juan on Wednesday, following a flight on Tuesday stocked with thousands of pounds of canned food, bottled water, medical items, flashlights, batteries and other items in demand.
The U.S. territory lost power across the island during the Category 4 storm, the worst it has seen in a century. Most residents and businesses have been relying on generators—with not nearly enough fuel—for electricity. A shortage of drinking water has citizens waiting in long lines to fill containers from a rare spigot of potable water, and stores island-wide have already been picked dry of shelf staples.
“Those 24/7 supermarkets that are icons in the community are opening for limited hours due to limited supplies,” Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, co-director of Chabad of Puerto Rico with his wife, Rachel, tells Chabad.org. They have been working nonstop since the storm ripped the island bare, opening up the Chabad center to offer hot meals and, of course, regular prayer services. Some community members did manage to attend for Rosh Hashanah and are expected to return for Yom Kippur, which starts after sundown on Friday and lasts after nightfall on Saturday.
Chabad is among nonprofit organizations on the island working frantically to provide relief for residents whose homes were flooded, if not destroyed. A Chabad fund has also been established for what is expected to be a long and difficult road to recovery.
‘Devastation So Close to Home’
Local emergency services have declared the Ocean Park neighborhood, in particular, a disaster zone, and said they will not attempt to make contact with residents “until communications are restored,” according to Zarchi. The area is located right near the Chabad center.
In that absence, Idan Labor, who attends Chabad, took his raft on Tuesday and went on a “search-and-rescue mission,” continues the rabbi, to find a number of elderly Jewish residents who had not been heard from since Internet and phone lines went down during the storm. It took an hour to find them, and then Labor made a second trip with food and water.
“To see the utter devastation firsthand and so close to home is shocking,” reports Zarchi. “Thousands of homes are locked in by the filthy floodwaters, even six days post-storm. With gratitude to the Almighty, we were able to locate the families we were looking for, and bring them food and water.”
Chabad has partnered with PR4PR, a nonprofit dedicated to serving residents of underserved neighborhoods in Puerto Rico, founded by Henry Orlinksy, a local Jewish real estate developer. The organization operates summer camps and afterschool programs for children and teens.
Ralph Nakash, a real estate developer and the founder of Jordache jeans, and his family used their private plane to deliver some 3,000 pounds of goods on Tuesday. Other volunteer passengers included Dr. Avishai Neuman, who provided medical assistance; Elie Rowe; Moishe Malamud; Yisroel Malamud; and Yossi Katz.
The second plane that flew in on Wednesday contained more than 1,000 pounds of products for Chabad to distribute. The primary donors were the Falic family, owners of Duty Free Americas.
Chabad is also working to collect goods in bulk, including canned foods (smaller sizes are preferable), cereal, coffee, nonperishable milk, rice, bottled water, flashlights with batteries, laundry detergent and household cleaning supplies.
Chabad has been working with community centers in impoverished villages to get lists of people who have the greatest need for supplies. Many of them are living in homes with missing walls and visibly damaged roofs.
“The joy and appreciation on the faces of emergency-aid recipients was staggering to see,” says Zarchi.
‘Persevere and Rebuild’
Flights from the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport in San Juan have been limited because of damage to radar and other equipment. Using local connections, Chabad helped evacuate Israeli citizens who otherwise would have been trapped on the island.
“It was a jolting moment of reality—coordinating and seeing the departure of so many of our dear friends and community members, who are very much a part of our lives on a daily basis,” says Zarchi. “We await their return.”
In explaining how he and others are reckoning with the disaster, the rabbi cites not only Jewish wisdom, but those on the island who are apt to say, “Viva Puerto Rico! [Puerto Rico Lives!]”
“Puerto Rico is blessed with resilient and loyal people who will persevere and rebuild,” he says, “and Isla Del Encanto will emerge as a stronger and more viable place to live.”
As Zarchi met Wednesday’s flight on the tarmac, he shared with the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, “how proud we were of her utmost devotion to the community.”
At present, an island-wide curfew in place requires people to be in their homes from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. Zarchi says he reminded the mayor that Jews would need to walk home from services when Yom Kippur begins on Friday night, and she told him that she would alert police officers to allow Jewish residents to be out during that time.
Zarchi also reassured the mayor that while others may have had to leave, he would not, and that “we will traverse” these circumstances and “help in the rebuilding of a wonderful Puerto Rico.”
To donate to the Chabad recovery effort, visit the Chabad of Puerto Rico relief fund here.