Caribbean Hurricane Relief Initiative

Project Overview

After launching our initial response to Hurricane Irma, we were cautiously standing by, watching Hurricane Maria’s rapid increase in power, elevating it from a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 5. With much discussion amongst our internal team, we collectively decided that the best course of action was for our teams to remain in St. Croix and Puerto Rico to ride out the storms — which would enable us to rapidly respond to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and reach at-risk populations as soon as possible.

Our teams fared well through the storm, but many of the islands that were impacted by the first hurricane were further devastated by the second. The countries most impacted by Hurricane Maria were Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico. However, that is not to say the neighboring islands did not feel similar power.

Jon Rose, Ben Bourgeois, Jimmy Wilson and W4W Haiti Country Director, Fritz Pierre-Louis, were on St. Croix during the storm. With both of their hotel rooms compromised - falling ceilings followed by flooding - the team spent the next day assessing damages and establishing a new base of operations. Similarly, Field Operations Director Rob McQueen and Otto Flores took refuge in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After a few close calls, they emerged safely and immediately began assessments the scope of the damage.

Many of us that come from a developed country such as the US, know these Caribbean islands as the incredibly beautiful vacation destinations they are – with sunshine, nice resorts, and wonderful local vibes. But what isn’t often thought about, are the little communities where a lot of the local people live, that work at all those resorts and tourist companies. We’ve seen them first hand and know the lack of proper infrastructure in many of them. This is not dissimilar to the dynamic during our response, a couple years back, to Hurricane Odile in Los Cabos, Mexico, where all the “Colonias” (interior villages that house almost 90% of the entire luxury resort workforce in the area) were hit hardest, because of their shanty structures and lack of proper development. Many of these communities are living well below the poverty line, and situated just a few miles away the massive luxury resorts its residents work in. The juxtaposition is nothing short of sobering.

We bring all this up because the devastation from the Caribbean Hurricanes is utterly massive in scale and there are needs everywhere. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of it all, but from our experience it is best to pick one or two ways to help (in our case that is access to clean water), then target certain areas of need, while letting other groups do the same. So, in an effort to streamline, we will target our focus on these specific underserved local communities, that are so often overlooked. We have incredible local points of contact through the entire region and have already been getting good intel on where to start first.

Together with colleagues from the region, that have become friends over the years, we are launching an emergency response initiative to provide access to clean drinking water.

Because we understand that the first few weeks are crucial in stemming the spread of waterborne diseases and life threatening dehydration, we plan to launch our response in three phases:

1. The first phase is designed to mitigate the immediate suffering of the most impacted families, by implementing portable water filtration systems in communities (both to shelters and residences still left standing) living at or below the poverty line. These are communities that already needed our program prior to any disaster, making them the least equipped to handle a catastrophe, such as Irma and Maria. We have seen this scenario many times in Haiti, most recently with Hurricane Matthew last year, and it is the little underserved “forgotten” communities that really feel the worst of what these events have to offer.

2. After we have addressed the immediate need for clean water, phase two will serve to address breakdowns in water infrastructure through the creation of large and centrally-located water depots. These are big systems that can serve entire communities, rather than just one household.

3. The third phase will analyze data that has been compiled throughout the first two phases, allowing us to design and implement long-term mechanisms to change the way water is accessed for years to come – such as rainwater harvesting systems, borehole wells, and/or desalinization systems.

One of our long time advocates and trusted regional Caribbean Hurricane Relief team member, Ben Bourgeois, says, “I have experienced first hand how the Waves For Water organization goes about helping those in need with access to clean water. It is a great place to be able to give back to places that have given me so much throughout my career. I look forward to working on more projects with Waves For Water in the future. I know that Jon always has a solid plan. His experience and resources are key.”

Together with our (first phase) local team, we at Waves For Water are humbly asking you for whatever support you can give so we can execute and scale the plan listed above. As always, we are grateful to all of you who have supported us through the years and are honored to be surrounded by a network that is as devoted to helping people, as we are.

Thank you,

Jon Rose & the W4W Caribbean Hurricane Relief Team

Oct 20 - 2017Field Update 2

USVI & BVI Field Update

Ben Bourgeois & Brent Lievsay

After a quick re-group on mainland USA we arrived back on St. Croix 10 days ago. Recovery and rebuilding is moving fast on the island and the clean up they did in the few days we were home blew us away. We hit the ground running, starting with assessments and, when needed, restock of our previous implementations during our first strike. The feedback was positive from everyone and it’s good to know our filters are getting put to good use.

Next was growing our network in Tortola and Jost Van Dyke. The logistics of moving 300 filters and 300 buckets from St. Croix to Tortola is extremely difficult. Since the storms hit it’s been tough to hire boats and the ferry system has been turned upside down. We connected with our contacts running the St. Croix/St. Thomas ferry, which has just started running again, and loaded up and set out for St. Thomas. When we arrived it was pouring rain and unfortunately our contact had car problems and was unable to make it. So, we loaded up a passenger van stuffed completely to the top and went on the hunt for a hotel in the torrential downpour. There was zero vacancy on the island and absolutely nowhere to stay. We were fortunate enough to cross paths with the local fire chief. He set us up at the local Firehouse for the night on cots with the rest of the crew, fed us and helped us along the way. The next morning we loaded up all our gear in a fire truck and made our way to Red Hook Marina where we took a private charter boat over to Tortola.

Upon our arrival at the west end of Tortola we wondered how customs would greet us. As soon as they knew we were there to help it we had no problems and went straight to work.. Both of our contacts arrived, we loaded up two trucks, and set out to Apple Bay on the north coast. First stop was Sebastian's By The Sea, a small hotel that has been a staple for traveling surfers and a local hang out. We quickly assembled a demo for the dozen or so people who work and live in the area. Moving along the coast we did another implementation in Carrot Bay, followed by a stop a Rudy’s Bar at the top of the hill. Rudy's is located at a popular intersection in the middle of the island where many people stop and chat. The training went great and Rudy himself was pumped on what we were doing and has plenty of cistern water on the property, so it was a win for everyone. The sun was setting and our local contacts had us set up with a great place to stay and one of the few houses left, with little damage. The next morning we set out to Road Town to implement filters at a preschool, orphanage, and a number of smaller sites around town. Day by day we made great ground, with our local contacts being truly instrumental in helping us get these filters in the hands of the right people.

One of our main goals was to get over to Jost Van Dyke. Jost is a smaller sister island of Tortola and is known for having some of the nicest people in all the Caribbean. We organized a boat from the west end of Tortola with our buckets and filters and set out for a day trip. As we pulled into Grand Harbor you could see the destruction of most of the bars and restaurants that usually line the bay. We set up a demo right off the dock at the local Police station. From there we jumped in a local truck to make our way over to White Bay. It’s world famous in the sailing community and travelers from around the globe. As we pulled into White Bay it was hard to even recognize the place I remembered. No trees left, hardly any structures still standing. We did a few small implementations and had a chat with a legendary local named Wendell. His attitude was great and he was confident that they will rebuild and things will return to normal. The journey back to St. Croix was a bit easier with less gear but the weather still was not on our side and we got stuck on St. Thomas for a night due to high seas. They just can't seem to catch a break down here. We have had a ton of rain since Maria hit causing flash floods and landslides. Also, there are so many homes without roofs it’s hard for anyone to stay dry.

We have now implemented over 500 clean water filtration systems throughout St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Tortola, and Jost Van Dyke. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The communities seem to be coming to terms with the challenges ahead and are all really working together to get the islands back in order. The power grids are all off-line and not expected to be back on-line anytime soon. Most main water sources have been compromised in varying degrees specific to each island (the main water company WAPA in St. Croix has been infected with E.Coli and has issued warnings to boil all water. There have also been confirmed cases of leptospirosis throughout many of the islands) This will take time as most of the infrastructure throughout all of the islands has been completely, or at least partially, destroyed but it’s always amazing to see the local people rising up to help their community, in the face of such adversity.

Puerto Rico Field Update

Jorge Quintana, Rob McQueen & Otto Flores

We started this week off in the West Coast of Puerto Rico, in the municipality of Aguadilla. Partnering with the team from Solar4PR, who added 1000 solar lights to our program, and working with Ricardo “Dickie” Villanueva, we focused our western efforts on Aguadilla, Añasco and Isabela. After closing out our supplies on the west coast we moved back east, with our eyes on the overlooked Central and South regions of the island. We’ve focused on activating networks of local NGOs, and with their support, we have implemented 250+ water filter systems in Utuado, Arecibo, Salinas, Guayama, Comerio, Rio Grande, Luquillo, Fajardo and Humacao.

Our attention then turned to the mountains as we launched Ethan Lovell and Jose Perez to train and activate a new network in the Barrio Borinquen Atravesado, an isolated barrio in the municipality of Caguas. As many of the mountain communities have been neglected during relief efforts we expanded our program to include the mountain municipalities of Barranquitas and Naranjito. Along the way we met numerous people collecting water from creeks and rivers with no way to know the contamination level so we quickly turned a challenging drive into multiple roadside implementations, reaching thousands of people. Realizing the scope of the need in the area we linked up with Salud Integral Para La Montaña Health System. Salud Integral manages health clinics, across 6 mountain municipalities that operate year-round and are located primarily rural areas. To maximize our impact we installed communal cisterns at 6 of their locations to provide potable water for patients, visitors and people from the community.

As our efforts moved forward we continued to gain momentum, improving our networks and increasing our effectiveness. Then reports of Leptospirosis drew our attention to the area, even further. Moving deeper into the central mountains, a region better known as “La Cordillera Central”, we confirmed reports in isolated areas where disease and illness are becoming a real threat. The reported cases of Leptospirosis were found in Cubuy, a sector of Canovanas and we were quick to answer the call as we met with community leaders, assessed the situation and quickly came up with a solution. Working with the Mayor we trained and activated a full staff of emergency management personnel who immediately took to our program and targeted the communities that are suffering from the outbreak. Working together we will expand that strike to include the surrounding municipalities to ensure no other communities feel the impact of Leptospirosis.

On Thursday we had one of the most rewarding activations to date. In Las Mareas in Salinas, a community which was severely impacted by Maria, we implemented a communal cistern with a total of 8 filters that will provide water to 300 families. Josue, an 8 year old boy, stepped up to helped us build the water depot, situated between two destroyed homes. This was particularly moving because the cistern was installed on part of the cement foundation that was once Josue’s family's home. The joy the people of Las Mareas have found in helping each other has highlighted the spirit that has made our response to Puerto Rico so rewarding.

To date, we have impacted an estimated 55,000 Puerto Ricans and we will continue to increase support, both through our water filter program and more key team members that come along with that.

Oct 05 - 2017Field Update 1

To say the post-hurricane situation down here in the Caribbean is a beast, is a drastic understatement. We’ve been working disasters for almost 10 years now and seen virtually every dynamic one can imagine. We’ve seen catastrophic destruction, on the highest level, from earthquakes, to super typhoons, and even dam failures. We’ve seen Mother Nature flex her power, changing the lives of entire populations, in a matter of seconds. Each scenario, has its own set of nuances and local dynamics, but at the end of the day, what remains consistent is a change in history. This part is unwavering. For most everyone with direct connection to a major disaster, it will always be looked at as, ‘my life before it, and my life after’. It is soberingly transformative – altering the course of history in these areas, forever.

This is all stuff we at Waves For Water have become accustomed to at this point. But one uniquely different thing about this one, as it pertains to us, is the fact that we went there to respond to one disaster and then found ourselves caught directly in the face of the following one. We’ve experienced similar situations such as responding to the Nepal earthquake in 2015, and then being there, on the ground, when the follow up 8.0+ quake hit a month later. But never have we responded to a CAT 5 Hurricane one week, only to be caught directly in the path of another CAT 5, a week later. What are the odds?! But as we can all probably agree, it seems these odds have become greater and greater the last few years. Call it global warming, divine intervention, or just bad luck… or call it an alien invasion?! Whatever the case, it’s all happening at a seemingly unprecedented rate and we are caught in the crossfire.

When we launched this initiative it was focused on the US and BVI’s that were ravaged by Hurricane Irma, with a secondary goal of servicing some of the French Caribbean, after that. Our team of 7 arrived to St. Croix just under one week after Irma plowed through the region. This was a slightly longer than normal response time for us, but being that Hurricane Jose was directly on the heels of Irma with a similar path, many first responders had to wait a few extra days before mobilizing. As soon as Jose wasn’t an issue, we put all our wheels in motion. The team was made up of seasoned W4W employees/veterans – Fritz Pierre Louis (W4W Haiti Country Director), Rob McQueen (W4W Field Operations Director), and myself… and some newer regionally based colleagues – Ben Bourgeois, Dylan Graves, Otto Flores, and Jimmy Wilson. The same with all of our disaster response programs, the initial strike team is always carefully chosen. Each person is there for a specific reason. The regional guys serve as our pulse for the entire area. They have lived and/or operated from the region for decades, if not their entire lives. They have trustworthy points of contact in every corner of every island, which for us, is the only way a program like ours can truly be implemented sustainably – by identifying and then empowering certain locals to help us implement, monitor, and evaluate things for years to come. All this, coupled with Rob, Fritz, and my experience, made for a strong jumping off point.

Once on the ground in St. Croix we started to run through our standard ops procedures – establishing solid BO (Base of Operations), coordinating shipments of supplies (water filters and the 5 gal plastic buckets needed to assemble them), flushing out our various points of contact on the islands we wanted to target, and then designing our ops strategy & timeline accordingly. The ops strategy for this one was shaping up to be in line with what we’d expected – staging out of St. Croix, with a consistent rotating schedule of strikes to the hardest hit neighboring Islands. There is a certain sequence that is established through this that serves many purposes. The initial strikes are mostly focused around doing proper needs assessments and local network/team building, in these certain areas. It’s how we get the intel to determine how we will work in a community and who we will work through/with. This is not to say there isn’t actual pilot implementations happening on these strikes, it’s just on more of an introductory capacity, than the larger scope of work we will do once these local networks/teams are built.

We got off to a quick start in our first couple days on island, with strikes to St. Thomas and St. John. Again, using these initial strikes to establish connection with some of our contacts on both islands – all of who proved to be viable outlets to work through. The contacts came from every walk of life. We had military veterans, Rotarians, construction workers, etc. We introduced ourselves, our work, and our goals for the initiative. We then gave them a proper training in assembly, use, and maintenance, of our filtration systems… along with a little stockpile for each of them to start implementing with. The response was great, with many of them calling us, just hours after we left, to explain where they used them, how many people where benefiting, etc etc… In fact, the unanimous response by day two, was “How many of those systems can I get and how fast can I get them?” And voila, just like that, a local W4W network is born! This is a baseline strategy that we then try to replicate on all the islands. There are adjustments and adaptations made along the way but the main idea is that with “activated” local W4W networks embedded in some of the hardest hit zones, we can have a much greater impact than if we, as one team, went and tried to do all the implementing ourselves. Once these groups are “activated” we do regular follow ups with them to monitor and evaluate their progress… and either ramp up their efforts, or scale down depending on their capacity and how much the state of need has changed.

Everything was going well and then Mother Nature decided to throw us a giant curve ball. We were tracking a weather system since we got there that wasn’t really much at that point, but within a 36hr period of time turned into a CAT 3 hurricane. Her name was Maria. Another 24 hrs after that, she escalated into a CAT 5 storm with the suspected path going directly over us in St. Croix and then on to a direct hit for Puerto Rico. As we scrambled to assess the certain risks we now had in front of us and prepare our team for a direct hit, we decided to push 3 of our team members to Puerto Rico on the last flight out. We figured it would be best to have teams in each place so that once the dust settled, post storm, we could activate immediately. So, Otto and Dylan (both from Puerto Rico), along with Rob as their W4W team leader, went over to set up shop there.

The storm hit us with full force around midnight on Sep 20th. We somehow still had comms throughout the whole night and I would encourage all of you to visit my personal Instagram (@jon_rose) and the W4W account (@wavesforwater) to look at some of the videos from that night, as we tried our best to keep friends and family up to date, in the moment. We made it through the night hunkered down in our BO – the Caravelle Hotel, in the town of Christiansted. Our room was compromised in the storm with the ceiling caving in on us around 4am, but luckily we were able to move to another room that only had flooding on the floor. Once the morning came, we were able to go outside and see the true effects of Maria.

Honestly, I’ve never seen a transformation like that, first hand. I’ve never seen a fully functioning community turn into a wasteland, in a matter of hours. There were capsized boats everywhere along the coast, homes & businesses destroyed, a sea of spaghetti’d power lines down on every road – with their poles snapped in half like toothpicks, and all of the vegetation on the island literally disappeared.

What we came to learn that day was that even tho we got hit very hard, we actually dodged a major, potentially very life-threatening, bullet. At 11pm (about an hour before the storm hit us with full force) it was CAT 5 with a perfect eye wall set to hit us directly head on. Within that last hour it went through a eye regeneration process, which just for that hour, disorganizes the the eye wall and spreads out the concentrated force of the eye, making it slightly less strong. It also wabled a bit and the eye went about 10 miles south of us. These two factors were the difference between us enduring the 200+ mph winds that were forecasted and the 145 mph that actually hit us. Lucky, to say the least…

That next day, there was an immediate curfew instated, as many businesses were getting looted shortly after daybreak. Being that we were international relief workers, we had a curfew pass so we were able to hit the ground running and implement our filter program all across the island. We started with one of Fritz’s contacts, a fellow Rotarian named Liz, who was located in Fredericksted, the even harder hit side of the island. The damage to that town was and is catastrophic. We started implementing to small groups throughout the area, including a hotel that was housing a lot of people that lost their homes… and the local firehouse – made up of guys who were working around the clock to help local residents and in some cases had lost their own homes. We continued this work, getting out hundreds of filter systems in the coming days. Most places didn’t have running water but they did have cisterns and/or a pools (like at the hotel), that we were able to turn into a viable new source of drinking water.

The crew in Puerto Rico had a similar experience to us (on all fronts), but due to the large size of the island, they've had an even greater scope of work on their plate. Just moving around became their first challenge. The massive flooding and floating debris left in Maria’s wake closed nearly every major and secondary road in San Juan. Once the storm passed, our first focus was getting to our local team members to make sure their friends and families were okay... then we started targeting the hard hit communities, nearby to each of them. Once the team was accounted for and reconnected in San Juan things started coming together. Our first push was with local contacts and first responders from Carolina and San Juan Proper. Once we trained them in our program and empowered them to help their own communities, we sent further assessment teams out to the West, South, and Central, areas of the island. All of which, sustained catastrophic damage. Those teams were able to activate small effective local networks in Guayama, Salinas, Aguadilla, and others, within the first 72 hours. Then with the arrival of prominent Puerto Rican pro-surfer, Dylan Graves, and Clean Water Corps member, Chris Hudson, we expanded our reach to Isabella, Condado, Jayuya, Utuado and more — putting over 600 filtration systems out, impacting thousands of people. We also partnered with Red Bull athlete and renowned Puerto Rican B-Boy, "Crazy Legs", who helped us identify a small community in Rincon that had received no support. Until we got there, they were relying on a small stream to supply water to over 100 families.

Now, at roughly the three-week mark, we continue on the ground, working tirelessly to expand our reach and provide more and more people with access to clean water. And we have an incredibly great foundation to do so, due to a lot of the groundwork mentioned in this update. Even with the setbacks and new impact created by Maria, I’m happy with the progress we’re making. We now have over 1000 filtration systems scattered throughout our established local networks/teams, across 8 islands (Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Dominica). And the scale is getting greater by the day (Puerto Rico alone, has over 20 communities touched by this program).

With needs as they are and the intel we’re getting from each of these places about the amount of people using each system, our current estimation is that close to 10,000 people are benefitting from the program. These numbers will become more concrete as well, once we complete a couple more M&E (monitoring & evaluating) phases. We will be updating everyone as new information comes in, so keep checking back to the CHRI program page on our site.

For those of you who want to contribute to this initiative the best way, at this point, is a monetary donation. This is how we can continue to scale out our program, to new areas of need, that are coming onto our radar daily. I really respect the spirit and intention of those of you who want to come down and physically help, but please hear me – this is not the time. The logistical nature of this one is very unique and with the limited resources on the ground, anyone who comes down, without a specialized skillset or reason to be there, will actually hurt the situation more than help it. The limited resources left on the island need to be used on the people from there, not new relief workers. That said, at some point down the line, when some of the basic infrastructure is restored, there will be a need for a more general volunteer force. A good outlet for this is great group called All Hands Volunteers.

Thank you all for the ongoing support and hopefully this update has been able to help shed some light on what the last few weeks have been like and the progress we’re making. Apologies for not getting this out sooner (and also its lengthiness), this has been the first time we’ve had decent comms since the storm. The updates should come quicker from here on out.

Thank you,

Jon Rose & the W4W CHRI Relief Team

Statistics & Progress

Destination Caribbean Islands

Funds Raised
$541,627 of $750,000

Impact 750,000+