New York, NY – Like a war zone with most of the island still without power.
That’s how Teamsters Local 445 truck driver Daniel Maldonado, 40, described the scene in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Tuesday night — three weeks after Category 4 Hurricane Maria smacked the island with 155-mile-per-hour winds.
“It’s really bad,” the Newburg, New York resident told LaborPress. “There’s one traffic light [operating] in the whole city. It’s just very dark and hard to get around.”
Maldonado was one of 79 Teamsters from across the country who flew to Puerto Rico last Wednesday, October 4, along with more than 200 other trade unionists, intent on getting food, water and medical attention to the island’s more than 3.3 million residents.
Teaming up with volunteer nurses, Maldonado has spent the last week helping to deliver food, water and medical supplies to a desperate and devastated population struggling to survive the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Maria in oppressive 90-degree heat.
A number of the trade unionists lending aid — electricians, plumbers, truckers and nurses — have family on the island. When Maldonado located his Aunt Canciana, she was sitting alone in the dark praying over her rosary beads.
“The situation is very dire here,” Maldonado said. “I don’t know what CNN is showing. There are streets that are wiped out. We deliver food with the Red Cross, but a lot of guys have gone out and become roofers and done a lot of things that are outside of their skill set.”
One woman receiving trade unionist aid was suffering from a case of gangrene so severe, she later had to have her leg amputated. Another man suffered a stroke right in front of Maldonado and his fellow rescuers.
“If it weren’t for our Teamsters driving nurses around people would have died,” the Local 445 business agent said.
At one quick stop in the town of Humacao, located on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, Maldonado, quickly spent $160 feeding Shish kebab from a food truck to hungry hurricane victims who hadn’t eaten in days.
“I don’t see the military personnel that they’re talking about,” Maldonado said. “I’m wondering where they are. We’ve been to a lot of towns and we’ve been to places where people haven’t seen food in a week. I just don’t see the response in general that I think I should. If this is the norm, I think things have to be changed.”
On Thursday, Donald Trump criticized Puerto Ricans and indicated that his administration might soon withdraw whatever aid the government might already be providing.
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military, the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.
The volunteer union workers rendering aid to Puerto Rico have been sleeping on cots inside the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan and showering in nearby tents.
But despite all the food, water and medical care they have helped deliver since October 4, Maldonado, who is due to return home to New York next week, fears that the work trade unionists have done in Puerto Rico, is insufficient to the magnitude of need.
“The sad story is we have very skilled people here and we’re going to leave without really putting a dent in anything — that’s how bad it is.”
Puerto Ricans suffered a one-two punch —having to contend with both Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, which hit the island earlier in September.
“I believe there will be an exodus,” Maldonado said. “I can’t see this place recovering in the next two years.”