More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, basic aid is finally making its way out of major cities to remote towns, according to Empact Northwest.
Volunteers with the Poulsbo-based disaster relief nonprofit landed at Sea-Tac Airport on Saturday afternoon after a week on the island bringing food rations to rural areas and seeing people aching for aid.
“Just the fact that people were going that long without aid and assistance was really challenging to see. Knowing that these are American citizens -- a country that does disaster like no other country in the world and a week later, they still weren't seeing the aid they needed,” said Empact Northwest’s Jake Gillanders.
Gillanders and other volunteers were bringing relief to four cities in Ciales, a municipality located in Puerto Rico’s central mountain range about 40 miles from San Juan.
“We really fought through a lot of logistics and a lot of red tape in order to get help needed,” said Empact Northwest logistics coordinator Sil Wong-Underwood, who spent three days in Miami coordinating efforts prior to traveling to Puerto Rico. “There's so much work left to be done.”
Wong-Underwood says Empact helped deliver 11 tons of food to 600 families, and much of the success was thanks to the Puerto Rico State Guard.
“We did see a couple of air drops to an area that hadn't gotten much aid in, so things are starting to move, but the frustration is definitely evident,” Wong-Underwood said.
Despite President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visiting Puerto Rico this week, they still face criticism that federal response has been devastatingly slow.
On an island of 3.4 million people, more than 3 million are still without power, and 1.5 million are without running water, according to Puerto Rico’s Governor.
Plus, there’s an untallied number of American Citizens feeling overlooked.
“We just can’t let this fall off our radar,” Gillanders said, continuing, “because there’s a lot of people who are going to need a lot of help for a long time.”