Puerto Rico getting back on feet 'step by step,' but long road remains

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Knights of Columbus

By Julie Asher

(CNS) — Nearly a year ago, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico as a
category 4 storm, and afterward 11-year-old Marco Lebron’s first thought was about
the monks who teach at his school, Benedictine-run San Antonio Abad School and Abbey in

few days after the hurricane I just think my school is in the middle of the
forest, they’re monks, and they’re elderly, they’re retired,” Marco said. “And
I just told my dad, ‘Hey, let’s see if they’re OK.'”

monks have their own well but without electricity they couldn’t get water from
it, said Benedictine Abbot Oscar Rivera. “It was hurricane like I’ve never seen
before. Basically, all your fundamental necessities, like water, were gone. …
We felt totally helpless.”

the monks get water was one of the first things Marco and his father, Jose
Lebron-Sanabria, set out to do in those first days after Maria; that and take
care of their own family’s water needs. Lebron-Sanabria and his wife,
Christina, also have a daughter, Natalia, 2.

had even more people to help as a member of the Knights of Columbus and general
insurance agent for the fraternal organization.

are getting back on our feet step by step,” Lebron-Sanabria told Catholic
News Service in a phone interview from Humacao. As of Aug. 14, nearly 11 months
after the storm, 100 percent of the customers who lost power have had electricity
restored, ABC News reported.

But the needs are still great, especially for food, water
and major home repair, he said. “Everybody is doing a lot — church,
government, entities from around the world coming to help us.” By
mid-summer, he saw real improvement. “But we still have a long way to go,”
he added.

Lebron-Sanabria, Marco and Abbot Rivera recalled what conditions
were like immediately after Maria hit Sept. 20 in interviews for a Knights of
Columbus video in its “Everyday Heroes” online series. The Knights
were among the entities donating funds for Puerto Rico’s recovery; relief for
the island was part of the $7.5 million the organization gave in disaster aid
in 2017.

In the video other Knights describe what life is like
post-Maria and the kind of material help they and others have pitched in on to
help their fellow residents.

“All Puerto Ricans will live differently after
Hurricane Maria,” said one. “It felt as though something had been
taken from us. It was though we had lost something.”

In a report to Congress in August, Puerto Rican officials
put the death toll at 1,427, with most of the deaths coming in the days and
weeks after the storm. With emergency services stretched and transportation hindered
by downed power linings blocking the roads, people could not get needed medical
attention and perished.

Lebron-Sanabria has been a Knight since 2011 and became
an insurance agent in 2014. Three years later the Knights named him general
agent for Puerto Rico. In that role he became a central leader in relief
efforts after Maria.

job as general agent is to take care of people with good financial advice so
they can protect their family’s economic future,” he said. “The first
thing I had to do after the hurricane was to make sure the members were alive,
that they were safe and that my field agents were well enough to take care of
the other members.”

brother, Hector Lebron-Sanabria, who is one of those field agents, said in the
“Heroes” video that since Hurricane Maria, “every week we are
cooking 500, 600, 400 hot dinners for the affected people here in Patillas.”

Hector Lebron-Lopez: “There is still a lot of poverty in the mountain area
of Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria emphasized that even more. For people who do
not have usually have easy access to food and supplies it has now become even
more difficult to have access to them.”

Lebron-Sanabria told CNS he has never experienced anything before like
Hurricane Maria and the devastation is caused to the island. “(What) we’ve
been through is very difficult to express,” he said.

feels his lifelong Catholic faith has helped him stay strong and truly believes
feels Knights founder Father Michael McGivney has been looking out for all of them.

Marco also motivated him. “(He) was the guy who that pushed me through all
of this. He’s a Boy Scout — he wanted to help with everything.”

but not least is wife Christina. “I don’t know what would happen if she
was not side by side with me in this crisis,” he said. “She is the
real hero.”

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