Local folks with huge hearts come out in force to help our fellow Americans

I remember standing on the shoreline and watching the storm approach.

As the sky darkened and the wind picked up, Mother Nature's awesome power began impacting all my senses.

I could see the sheets of rain approaching over the madly-dancing whitecaps.

I could feel the spray from the lake on my face.

I could hear the trees around me beginning to creak and groan.

As I retreated to the beach house and battened down the hatches, I recall thinking: “I won't forget this anytime soon.”

And this was just a gale; bad enough in its own right, but absolutely nothing compared to a hurricane.

It occurred to me as I sat down to write this column that few of us here in our idyllic little corner of the world have any idea what absolutely terrifying power Mother Nature can wield.

Intellectually, we understand it … but on a visceral level, we really can't grasp the terror something like a hurricane can inspire.

Sadly, this terror is exactly what the poor folks of Puerto Rico experienced firsthand.

Our fellow Americans recently suffered a direct hit from a Category 5 storm. And, none of their lives have been the same since.

Local Connection

Pilar Beam came to the United States from Puerto Rico 17 years ago.

Over the course of the past decade, she's become a fixture on the Wayne County scene. From Bryn Mawr, to Missy Basketball and Honesdale High School hoops, Pilar has worked hard to be a positive influence in the lives of local youngsters.

Wednesday, Sept. 20 began like any other day for her. However, by the time it was over, Pilar's life had been turned upside down.

Hurricane Maria delivered a direct blow to Puerto Rico, leaving the island in absolute ruin.

In its wake, thousands of folks began a desperate quest for news of loved ones. This included Pilar, whose father is retired and still living there.

Over the course of a week, a frantic Pilar called her dad's cell phone 172 times and received no answer. On the eighth day, she finally got through.

“He told me he was ok,” Pilar said, relief written all over her face.

“It was such a scary situation. Those eight days seemed like eight years. I can't even imagine what other families must have gone through because some of them weren't as lucky.”

She's so right. Just take a look at some of the numbers coming through...

Inestimable Losses

Hurricane Maria was the most powerful hurricane to strike the island in nearly a century.

As of Friday, the storm had claimed 34 lives. There are 14 hospitals in Puerto Rico and, in the wake of Maria, all 14 were without power and running water.

Of the island's more than 3.4 million residents, 55 percent had no access to clean water and 95 percent were in the dark.

Puerto Rico has 2,400 miles of main transmission lines and nearly all were down. Additionally, the vast majority of the 30,000 miles of smaller distribution wires were useless.

According to Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite, commander of the Corps of Engineers, residents in more remote corners of the island will likely be without power for 10 months.

FEMA officials report that there are about 1,100 retail gas stations on the island. After the storm, 850 were non-operational. As of Friday, 69 percent were back up and running.

Maria destroyed an estimated 80 percent of all crops. This means that the island's economy will suffer a staggering loss of $780 million in revenue for coffee, bananas and plantains alone.

Dynamic Duo

It's funny how such a terrible situation like a deadly hurricane can generate small doses of goodness.

Maria's rampage across Puerto Rico brought Pilar and Teresa Zarcone-Perez together … two people who may never have met otherwise … and unleashed a torrent of positive energy.

“They call us the Dynamic Duo,” Pilar said with a laugh. “I'm so glad we got together because we have a lot in common and we've been able to do a lot.”

Teresa was an exchange student in Puerto Rico back in 1998. She went on to work at the San Juan Star and eventually met her future husband in the small mountain community of Aibonito.

Teresa's in-laws still live on the island, as do many other of her husband's friends and relatives. So, this terrible tragedy hit very close to home … and catapulted her into Pilar Beam's orbit.

The Dynamic Duo joined forces and became the driving force behind NEPA “Puerto Rico Rising.”

The local chapter of this national organization was based at Bryn Mawr, but received help from all over Wayne, Pike and even Lackawanna Counties.

Pilar and Teresa spread the word and people came out of the woodwork to help. As of this writing, NEPA's Puerto Rico Rising had already shipped 62 pallets of food, medical supplies and necessities.

And, that's just the beginning. There's already another 53-foot tractor trailer filling up and 20 more pallets currently being processed.

“I always knew that this community had a great heart,” Pilar said. “And, I also knew that if the word got out, people would come together and make a difference.”

Dave's Foodtown, Stephens Pharmacy, the Bethany Public Library, Woodloch Market, Wayne County Public Library, Honesdale Interact Club, Met Life in Clarks Summit are just some of the places donations were collected.

Ongoing Process

Pilar and Teresa are incredibly grateful for all the help they've received so far. However, they also want to remind everyone that recovery is a long-term process.

“We still need all kinds of things,” Pilar said. “Medical supplies, water and canned goods are at the top of the list.”

Anyone who'd like to make a donation is urged to visit the NEPA Puerto Rico Rising Facebook page. There, you'll find links to websites, pertinent contact information and all kinds of donation options.

“We've already had companies from as far away as Chicago ask how they can help with furniture and things like that,” Pilar said.

“It's an ongoing process. I just want everyone to know how grateful I am and that Puerto Rico really will be rising again!”