More than a month after being leveled by hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still trying to set up basic services for its US residents.
According to the Puerto Rican government, 23 percent of the island still doesn’t have access to running water, and 78 percent of the island is still without power as of Oct. 27.
But every day, federal aid workers and volunteers from all over world are working every day toward helping the island recover, including Enumclaw locals Tyler Gachen and Ryan Wood.
Gachen and Wood are part of a group of six people with We Unite Organizations, a Boston-based non-profit that founded the Human Rights Festival.
The group flew over to Puerto Rico on Oct. 17, and plans to arrive back in the states on Nov. 7.
The aid coordinator on the island is Paul Waggonner, a Floridian who a few years ago met Wood in Eastern Washington while they were in EMT school.
When We Unite contacted Waggonner to see if he was interested in helping out in Puerto Rico, he gave Wood — a ski patroller at Crystal Mountain — a call, who in turned got in touch with Gachen, a volunteer firefighter with the Enumclaw Fire Department.
“I figured this is a good way to get involved and give back,” Gachen said.
The We Unite group has worked on several projects during their three weeks down there, said founder Lauren Piraino, including working with the Black Cross to unload and distribute thousands of pounds of relief supplies, including food, water, hygiene products and even generators.
But the biggest impact the group seems to be making, Piraino said, was rigging together large water-filtration systems that can help filter water for whole communities, not just individuals or families.
She said Waggonner, who “is like an on-site inventor,” managed to cobble together a stream-fed water filtration system that could filter up to 1,500 gallons of water, and the group has set up these systems in Las Marias, Auguadilla and San Sebastian.
Gachen said they’re also continuing to help install filters for individuals and small groups of people, like an orphanage that houses 19 young boys.
We Unite put together a GoFundMe page for the group, with the money going toward buying the volunteers food, gas and more filters, Piraino said.
None of the money goes to sheltering the volunteers.
“They’re really roughing it,” she said, adding they sleep outside, on porches or in the homes of the people they help.
The GoFundMe can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/help-out-our-aid-team-in-pr.