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Emergency Response to Hurricane Irma and Maria

by International Medical Corps
Emergency Response to Hurricane Irma and Maria
Medical consultation in Puerto Rico
Medical consultation in Puerto Rico

In September 2017, the Caribbean endured a catastrophic hurricane season with Hurricanes Irma and Maria causing unprecedented destruction. Record wind speeds and storm surge caused massive damage to infrastructure and widespread flooding, breaking supply chains and leaving communities across the region without access to necessities such as clean water, healthcare, and shelter. In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria left all of its 3.4 million residents without power, while half of the population did not have access to safe drinking water and 2,975 people were killed.

To reach the women, men and children in the most remote areas, International Medical Corps immediately deployed physicians and nurses to provide mobile health services. We also partnered with La Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico (ASPPR) – a network of Federally Qualified Health Centers who support vulnerable populations in Puerto Rico – helping ensure their health facilities could keep their doors open to serve the vast influx of patients. With power down across the island, our support included providing generators and water bladders to restore electricity needs and store clean drinking water across the health centers. Our teams supported 26 facilities with infrastructure-improvement projects, including the creation of 2,000 gallons of clean water storage.

To address the underlying health and health-related needs exacerbated by the storm, we also procured and distributed durable medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, distributed 14,791 hygiene kits to keep families safe and healthy, and addressed nutrition needs by providing 771 women with breastfeeding counseling and support groups about re-lactation.

As the people of Puerto Rico continue to rebuild from the devastating impacts of the 2017 hurricane season, International Medical Corps remains committed to recovery efforts. Today, we continue to work with ASPPR and their health centers, focusing on addressing needs surrounding mental health. Ashley, our Senior Global MHPSS Officer, notes:

“Survivors of disaster, like Hurricane Maria, face a higher risk for psychological distress and mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and more. This can often be from suffering an overwhelming loss, such as the loss of family members and friends, or from losing one’s homes or even livelihood. Providing mental health care and psychosocial support services post-disaster is crucial to reach these men, women, and children who continue to experience stress even long after the immediate emergency phase ends.”

We thank you and the GlobalGiving community for your support as we continue to reach those in need in Puerto Rico.

Children in Puerto Rico
Children in Puerto Rico
Our teams providing a home visit for medical care
Our teams providing a home visit for medical care
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Vanessa
Vanessa

On September 18, 2017 Dominica was hit by Hurricane Maria, facing 160 mph winds and severe rainfall. The devastating hurricane damaged an estimated 90% of the buildings on the island and suspended routine life for island residents. International Medical Corps was among the first humanitarian agencies to respond to Dominica’s calls for help, establishing programs focused on health; water, sanitation and hygiene; and mental health and psychosocial support.

As a part of our mental health and psychosocial support programming, International Medical Corps trained 212 individuals in Psychological First Aid. These trainings taught participants how to offer compassionate support to those who have recently gone through a particularly distressing event, such as the events of Hurricane Maria.

Vanessa, a small business owner and mother of four, was among the individuals we reached through our Psychological First Aid training. When Hurricane Maria ripped through the Caribbean island, it destroyed Vanessa’s shop and her home built on the floor above. Vanessa founded her business - New Beginning Gifts and Leathers - in 2012 with the vision: create and sell jewelry and crafts, while simultaneously training disadvantaged youth and adults in such skills as leather craft and pottery-making. For seven endless hours that harrowing night, Maria’s torrential rains poured into both Vanessa’s business and home.

As Dominica recovers from the physical destruction Maria left in its wake, Vanessa emphasizes the storm’s lingering psychological impact. “The structural damage has been repaired, but the people themselves, they’re still angry, they’re still fearful…” Vanessa said. “Some people do not understand what they are going through. They figure, ‘Oh, my roof is back up and I’m back at work’ … yet they still feel tense, on edge.”

For Vanessa, the International Medical Corps Psychological First Aid training offered a way to understand the powerful impact disasters can have on mental health as well as physical health, and how recognizing and treating the resulting psychological needs is a vitally important step for communities to recover. The training has helped her listen in a supportive way, foster positive coping skills and promote self-care and support.

“It helped me find a better way of understanding people,” she said. “It helped me deal with others in a better way… a better way of trying to comfort people.”

We thank you and the GlobalGiving community for your support as we build the resilience of the Hurricane Maria affected people.

Psychological First Aid training workshop
Psychological First Aid training workshop
Tools and jewelry salvaged from Vanessa's shop
Tools and jewelry salvaged from Vanessa's shop
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Nurse Nancy with hurricane-affected individuals
Nurse Nancy with hurricane-affected individuals

The Category 5 storm Hurricane Irma hit the Atlantic basin the week of September 5, 2017, maintaining maximum intensity for over 30 hours and leaving 1 million people in Puerto Rico without power. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria followed. Hurricane Maria was particularly catastrophic to the island – leveling homes, destroying health facilities and damaging critical infrastructure.

International Medical Corps sent Spanish-speaking volunteer teams to assist in the recovery process, and nurse Nancy – an Orlando-based American nurse with over 20 years nursing experience – was among those deployed. Nancy says the work of her and her colleagues was “pure nursing,” in that “people needed help adjusting to the new normal.” She notes how disrupted life was for Puerto Ricans: “From people who had nothing, Maria took everything.” 

Nancy and her colleagues made many home visits, in order to “go to where the greatest needs were” and “meet people where they were.”

Despite the disaster, Nancy points out that the people of Puerto Rico remained incredibly resilient. “In spite of the sadness,” she says, “families and neighbors helped one another, facing the challenge of living without electricity and clean water with courage, finding creative solutions, and sustaining one another.”

International Medical Corps continues to support the health and medical needs of Puerto Ricans still struggling to recover from the hurricanes and working to ensure a stronger, safer island. Together with the Primary Care Association of Puerto Rico, La Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico (ASPPR), we are working to integrate community health centers into the island’s Emergency Response System. This is a critical step to reduce deaths and injuries for the next crisis.

We thank you and the GlobalGiving community for your support and generosity as we work to build back better.

Nurse Nancy and local health partner, Med Centro
Nurse Nancy and local health partner, Med Centro
Health outreach in Puerto Rico
Health outreach in Puerto Rico
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Our volunteers with the staff of Corporacion SANOS
Our volunteers with the staff of Corporacion SANOS

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20 2017, Corporación SANOS sprang into action. Part of a network of 76 health clinics in Puerto Rico serving vulnerable populations on the island, including the homeless and uninsured, Corporación SANOS immediately began providing primary health care to those affected and injured by the storm, taking overflows of patients from nearby hospitals.

Then on October 2, the unthinkable happened— Corporación SANOS’ generator collapsed and exploded, cutting off the clinic’s access to power and leaving them struggling to meet the needs of their community.

“That was the darkest day ever in my life,” said Cesar, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Corporación SANOS, recalling the day the generator collapsed. Not only did it compromise the clinic’s ability to provide essential health care services, but it also jeopardized their entire vaccine inventory. With the generator blown, “things started to be very, very difficult,” said Cesar.

Then they got a call. A local partner informed Cesar that International Medical Corps was supplying generators in Puerto Rico and one arrived for Corporación SANOS that same day. After its installation, Corporación SANOS was able restore power to its medical equipment and water, ventilation, and communications systems, and resume critical clinic operations and services. To help ensure their full recovery, International Medical Corps also deployed volunteer medical teams to work alongside Corporación SANOS staff and helped repair their damaged infrastructure.

In the months following the initial disaster, International Medical Corps has continued to deepen its partnerships with local clinics in Puerto Rico like Corporación SANOS to help ensure they are better prepared for future emergencies. Over the last eight months, International Medical Corps has supported 43 federally qualified clinics across Puerto Rico with grant support aimed at building their resilience, helping to install solar power systems, expand mobile outreach and prescription services, procure mobile generators, hire mental health specialists to teach clinic staff about crisis and stress management, anxiety, and motivation, and much more.

At Corporación SANOS, International Medical Corps supported the installation of a solar powered vaccine refrigerator to help protect the clinic’s vaccine cold chain during future disasters.

“International Medical Corps has started to be part of the family,” said Cesar. “They focused on our real needs, helping us better reach the people we serve,” he added.

With another hurricane season on the horizon, Corporación SANOS is taking additional emergency preparedness measures, prepositioning food and water for employees inside the building, as well as extra fuel to power the generators. While Cesar’s children still go to a school without power, he remains optimistic about the future. “The future looks good,” he said.

We thank the GlobalGiving community for their generous support of International Medical Corps’ response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as we continue to address the ongoing health needs of vulnerable communities today.

SANOS staff assess the damage in their community
SANOS staff assess the damage in their community
The damaged roof of the Corporacion SANOS clinic
The damaged roof of the Corporacion SANOS clinic
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Hilminia stands in the kitchen of her damaged home
Hilminia stands in the kitchen of her damaged home

As street signs and roofs across Puerto Rico began to rattle on September 19th as Hurricane Maria barreled towards the island, residents of the neighborhood of La Charca feared for the worst. Located in a ravine in the foothills of central Puerto Rico, the town had experienced significant flooding during previous storms, all of which had been less powerful than Hurricane Maria. Over the course of next two days, the storm would go on to drop up to 20 inches of rain on the region, much of which poured down the hillsides, submerging La Charca in floodwater.

Helminia and her sister, Mercedes, were two survivors of the floods. The hurricane submerged the bottom floors of both of their houses in blackwater–water contaminated by untreated sewage– and ripped the roof off of Mercedes’ home. Today, over five months after the storm, Helminia is still sleeping on the top floor of her home due to damage from the flood. Mercedes comes over to her house at night to sleep as her own house, made mostly of wood planks and plywood, is still missing its roof.

International Medical Corps visited Helminia and Mercedes in December to check their health and provide them with hygiene kits as a part of our support of Florida Medical Plaza, a local health care clinic serving vulnerable populations in the Florida municipality. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, we provided the Florida Medical Plaza clinic with a generator and fuel to help them keep their doors open and provide uninterrupted health care services to hard-hit communities like La Charca.

To support individuals like Helminia and Mercedes who are continuing to recover from the storm, International Medical Corps is working with local health clinics to operate mobile medical units (MMUs) in remote locations of the island. To date, we have provided to consultations 995 patients through our MMUs, many of whom are suffering from chronic disease and are unable to travel to heath facilities.

Helminia and Mercedes have lived in La Charca for over thirty years and intend to stay despite the damage to their homes and community. To help ensure that they are better prepared for the next disaster, we provided them with important information on how to maintain their health and hygiene after an emergency.

We thank the GlobalGiving family for their ongoing support of vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico as we continue to help them recover from the devastating September hurricanes.

Our team speaks with Mercedes about her health
Our team speaks with Mercedes about her health
Our team walks up to greet Mercedes at her house
Our team walks up to greet Mercedes at her house
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Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Kelli Maddock
Los Angeles, CA United States
$23,553 raised of $50,000 goal
 
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