The island of Vieques, a part of Puerto Rico, is thought for its stunning seashores and its historical past as a navy bombing vary. But following final yr’s devastating hurricanes, a handful of Nebraskans additionally discovered it introduced them collectively round one other characteristic; its humanity.
Last September, hurricanes Irma and Maria pummeled Vieques with 100-mile-per-hour winds and debilitating storm surge. The twin storms, coming two weeks aside, devastated the tiny Caribbean island, abandoning roofless houses, crumpled buildings, defoliated bushes, damaged sea partitions, and sand-strewn streets.
And leaving 9,000 residents with out electrical energy, water, web and medical provides.
A handful of Nebraskans who usually trip on the island eight miles east of Puerto Rico volunteered for reduction responsibility, as an alternative.
(Left to proper) Donna and Don Hutchens, Ann Burkholder, Jim Stevens and Alan Smith pose in entrance of images of Vieques by John Nollendorfs, on the Burkholder Project in Lincoln’s Haymarket. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).
Lincoln artist Anne Burkholder and her good friend Donna Hutchens lately assembled the group for a reunion of kinds at Burkholder’s downtown Lincoln artwork gallery and studios. Although they’ve sturdy ties to the island from visiting it as vacationers, these of us actually didn’t know one another effectively till catastrophe struck.
Now, after sharing the expertise of volunteering exterior of Nebraska, they’ve a deeper connection.
Burkholder mentioned it was powerful to see situations on the entrance traces after a pure catastrophe.
“They had no water,” Burkholder mentioned. “Things have been actually unhealthy. Unsanitary. The sewage pumps weren’t working.”
Lincoln electrician Jim Stevens mentioned being unable to speak with the islanders to know the way he might assist was irritating.
Anne Burkholder combs the seashores of Vieques for sea glass, sea shells and coral to vogue her personal sort of sailor’s valentines. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).
“After the hurricane hit, the very first thing I did was attempt to get ahold of people who I knew on the island,” Stevens mentioned. “I feel it was three-and-a-half weeks earlier than I might discover somebody I knew. So instantly we began shopping for mosquito nets, mosquito repellent, photo voltaic lights, batteries and protein bars.”
Hutchens mentioned the lack of communications within the catastrophe modified her perspective.
“We take all that kind of factor with no consideration,” she mentioned. “The electrical energy and wifi and simply how utterly remoted they have been; nothing, no data getting in or out.”
Along with shopping for and delivering important provides, primarily to the aged and the homeless, Stevens mentioned he helped set up mills, restore roofs and shutters, and clear particles from streets and yards with a series noticed.
Vieques is positioned eight miles east of Puerto Rico within the Caribbean Sea. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).
Unlike on their earlier visits as vacationers, this was no day on the seaside. But Don Hutchens (Donna’s husband) mentioned the arduous work in tough situations gave new that means to their presence.
“You began to satisfy all of the locals,” he mentioned. “Because you have been within the ironmongery shop, the plumbing retailer. You acquired to know the folks versus the opposite vacationers or the individuals who work in eating places and grocery shops.”
Jen Davidson, a pastor First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln whose ministry works with folks dealing with the challenges of growing old, mentioned coping with devastation can unleash compassion.
“Sometimes I feel the ache and devastation is so nice, in any given scenario, that we simply have this compulsion to do something that we will see that is perhaps useful to different human being,” Davidson mentioned.
Anne Burkholder and Donna Hutchens share a robust ardour for artwork and Vieques. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).
Stevens mentioned island residents appreciated their assist in coping with Federal Emergency Management Agency officers and insurance coverage brokers. One resident, Angelino, was significantly grateful.
“We met another folks on the island from another states, and Angelino mentioned ‘God bless you guys,’” Stevens mentioned. “That was fairly rewarding. They have been so appreciative of every part folks have been doing for them.”
Burkholder has been going to Vieques for 18 years. She mentioned volunteering for hurricane restoration deepened her dedication to the island.
“I feel when you get to Vieques and know Vieques, you like Vieques,” she mentioned. “But it’s not a vacationer island. It’s actual folks.”
Alan Smith, Jim Stevens and Don Hutchens skilled a special aspect of Vieques throughout their post-hurricane volunteer duties. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).
Stevens mentioned the empty seashores, wild horses and glowing bay distinguish Vieques from different locations. But attending to know the folks retains it in his coronary heart.
“It’s an exquisite place,” he mentioned. “Before hurricane and after hurricane, to me, makes no distinction. The individuals are simply as pleasant and useful, the seashores are simply as stunning as ever. The constructions that got here down will be changed.”
Lincoln photographer Alan Smith, who helped with historic conservation efforts on the island, mentioned Vieques nonetheless faces huge challenges like sustaining dependable provides of electrical energy and water.
And, with one other hurricane season underway, these volunteers know there’s much more work forward.
“The little work that we did was only a drop within the bucket,” Donna Hutchens mentioned. “And there’s a lot extra to do. And then they’ll be one other hurricane.”
And whereas all of them would love the island, the place tourism accounts for 65 % of the economic system, to rebound, Smith mentioned he doesn’t need it to alter an excessive amount of:
“We don’t need all people to go there,” he mentioned, laughing. “No, no. That’s such as you don’t need all people to know the way nice Nebraska is.