Emergency Medical Aid Reaching Survivors of Hurricane Maria

  • November 22, 2017
  • Getting emergency aid to devastated communities. Photo: Alejandro Granadillo
Help Disaster Survivors

Today marks two months since Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 storm in Puerto Rico, claiming 55 lives and causing an estimated $94 billion in damages. More than 1,500 people remain in shelters, approximately half of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents remain without power and many parts of the island remain under a boil water advisory.  Maria also dealt Dominica a brutal blow and caused considerable damage in other Caribbean islands. Our response teams continue work in Dominica and Puerto Rico. More air shipments of medicine and supplies are arriving in Puerto Rico and Dominica and team members are delivering supplies, providing aid and working to meet needs in health facilities and communities struggling to re-establish basic services. Photo: Alejandro Granadillo 

Direct Hit on Weary Islands

As Hurricane Maria smashed into Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other beleaguered Caribbean islands, Americares emergency experts responded immediately to this deadly storm. Maria caused widespread devastation on the island of Dominica, left Puerto Rico in terrible crisis and then continued its assault on islands already battered by Hurricane IrmaOne of our first response teams on the ground in Puerto Rico hand carried $60,000 worth of antibiotics and medical supplies, some of which were delivered to a children’s hospital.

With much of the island's infrastructure damaged or destroyed by Maria and health services severely limited, Tom Cotter, our team leader in Puerto Rico, reported that hospitals and health centers were running critically low on supplies. Power and cell service remain out for much of the island, particularly in areas outside of the cities. A number of water and sewage treatment plants are still out of service and some hospitals and other health facilities are either closed or dependent on generator power. A boil water advisory remains in effect. Our teams have been traveling to several remote communities to bring supplies and assess needs. Some of the health workers have reported that Americares has brought in the first aid they have received.  

Americares has now provided more than $36 million worth of medicines and supplies to communities affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Dominica.  Aid shipments continue.

Puerto Rico Aid

On Oct. 11, a third Americares air shipment to Puerto Rico, carrying 27,000 lbs of medicines and supplies, arrived in San Juan. Earlier, Americares provided disaster medicine training to 60 health professionals at Ponce Health Science University. Our assessment teams have visited hospitals and clinics on the islands of Vieques and Culebra, Mayaguez, Rincon in the west, Utuado in the mountains, as well as the greater Ponce and San Juan areas. The team has delivered aid to 18 hospitals and clinics, including provision of a satellite phone to the hospital in Vieques for critical communications, as well as setting up a temporary structure in another community to allow an inoperable health facility to offer services again. In addition, the team is helping to provide transportation for dialysis patients in Vieques to and from the mainland.

The team is working with the Department of Health in Puerto Rico to manage supply shipments and conduct damage assessments on health facilities. Mobile Medical Units have provided more than 870 patient consults thus far and more than 90 health professionals have participated in disaster medicine training or mental health workshops. Mental health support plans are underway as the trauma effects become more evident in the storm's aftermath.  

Dominica Aid

On September 20, Americares deployed response staff to St. Lucia who then traveled by helicopter to Dominica, hand-carrying medicine and supplies for the damaged hospital. To date, Americares has assessed eight clinics, confirming widespread damage to health infrastructure in several Dominica parishes.  On October 4, Americares first charter to Dominica arrived with medicines and supplies and was moved directly to the Ministry of Health. More shipments are underway. The Americares team in Dominica is helping the Ministry of Health to organize and inventory donated medical supplies, and they have begun working to repair damaged health centers, beginning with rapid repairs to two health centers with damaged roofs. The team has completed rehabilitation of the La Plaine health facility which is now reopened at full capacity. More than 60% of the island's housing has been damaged or destroyed along with all of its agriculture.

“Americares went down, we are gathering the needs list – what they need most urgently and when – and bringing it back up here to San Juan, and then we will be doing air shipments and cargo via boat, coming in with medicines and medical supplies for the additional needs and all of the recovery.”

Americares SVP of Global Programs Dr. E. Anne Peterson

Although Puerto Rico avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, the island was not spared when Maria slammed ashore as the most powerful storm in more than 80 years; the entire island was initially without power, the health system is in crisis and the damage is catastrophic. Torrential rains caused historic flooding with some communities entirely cut off.  The massive destruction of infrastructure has created logistical challenges for deliveries of basic supplies, particularly much needed diesel fuel. As more aid reaches desperate survivors, communities are organizing efforts to begin recovery.  

Ongoing Hurricane Relief

In addition to deployment of response teams, Americares previously had been working with the Puerto Rico Department of Health to stock emergency shelters in San Juan with medical equipment and supplies. As more shipments arrive, the team has begun the difficult task of assessing the many health system needs and planning for a long recovery. 

The day before Maria made landfall, Americares rushed an emergency airlift carrying $1.8 million in critical medicine and medical supplies to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The shipment contained more than 3 tons of urgently needed medical aid for patients with storm-related illnesses and injuries, as well as chronic disease medicine to replace medications lost in the storm.

At the same time, Americares relief workers continue to assist the Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the Caribbean and South Florida, as well as provide assistance to communities in southeast Texas recovering from Hurricane Harvey. To date, Americares has shipped more than  $62 million in medicines, supplies, and other assistance to more than 50 partners in Texas, Florida, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominica and St. Martin to help survivors of the recent storms.

$65 million

in aid delivered


shipments for hurricane survivors


prescriptions for people in need

An emergency medical shipment arrives in San Juan. Photo: Alejandro Granadill
Dominica, an island in ruins, after Hurricane Maria
A man covers the windows of a supermarket in preparation before Hurricane Maria hit in San Juan, Puerto Ric.Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman looks at the damages in the neighbour's house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico. Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A History of Responding to Disaster

Americares has professional relief workers ready to respond to disasters at a moment’s notice and stocks emergency medicine and supplies in its warehouses in the U.S., Europe and India that can be delivered quickly in times of crisis. The organization responds to an average of 30 natural disasters and humanitarian crises worldwide each year, establishes long-term recovery projects and brings disaster preparedness programs to vulnerable communities.

Should Americares raise funds in excess of what's needed to respond to this particular crisis, the funds will be redirected to where the need is greatest.