After a hectic Yom Tov and many concerned friends reaching out to us making sure we’re okay, I’d like to share with you the following update:
Wednesday afternoon, Erev Rosh Hashanah:
As the punishing winds finally subsided after a pounding of fourteen hours – during which we were unable to receive any news of where the eye of the storm was and its wind velocity, as all internet reception was down – we were able to make limited calls, so we called a friend in Florida who works with one of the storm tracking agencies. He reported the last reading of wind velocity was 155 MPH at the SJU airport a few blocks from the Chabad House, before all of the Radars ( estimated 21) went down. The natural flow of water on Rosa Street, where Chabad is located, is towards the North in the direction of the ocean. At 5:30 am, there was a raging river with waves of about three feet high flowing in the opposite direction towards the South. Surveying the Chabad House, we discovered that the Shul was flooded with hundreds of gallons of water, apart from one section of the roof that was totally ripped off, and the expected water entry into various parts of the structure resulting from a storm of this magnitude. We began sweeping out the water into the patio, and with the help of some amazing volunteers, the shul was ready for davening after two hours of nonstop water removal.
As we finally stepped out of the Chabad House at 4:00 pm to survey the outside, we were met by devastating destruction; a numbness and a daze can be seen over the faces of the few that ventured out at that time – this carried on over the next few days. We encountered blasted out windows, toppled utility poles mangled with just an overwhelming amount of downed trees, smashed cars and blown outdoors, ripped off roofs from nearby homes and major hotels, with massive commercial signs littering the roadways. What was strange was that the landscape looked so different – as we can suddenly see for blocks away that were previously covered by greenery.
Together with a community volunteer we made it over to our home complex that looked like a war zone, as Rosh Hashanah was quickly arriving we ran into our home, other than a downed ceiling in one of the kids room as a result of some damage to the roof, and water seepage into the various rooms, we quickly drained two feet of water from the backyard threatening to enter the home. We quickly ran over to our neighbors home who was out of town to check up on their house, their dining room had water from water overflow to the patio, so we quickly unclogged the drains to the patio allowing the water to recede. We ran back to Chabad with twenty minutes to spare for Rosh Hashanah
A few neighbors made it over for Evening services, we had a beautiful Yom Tov meal prepared by the Rebbetzin, and we all thanked Hashem for allowing us to enter into the New Year after experiencing so much devastation.
Before Tekios, I managed a walk outside about 7 am, and the streets were deserted other than a few walkers. I walked the neighborhood a bit, and just took in all of the wrecked homes and Hotels – Hampton Inn wrecked, Intercontinental a disaster, The-Ritz Carlton Hotel was covered with trees and parts of its missing roof. I was told they would need to close for repairs for some time. The main street was flooded and impassable, amidst all this, ONE person stopped to look around and amazingly chose to do something about the flooding. He bent down and started cleaning out the street drain and the water started gushing into the drain, I was told he was still there an hour later working with the drain. What an inspiration – this person chose to take action and bring order to the chaos – Right there was fantastic sermon material.
Amazingly we had minyanim both mornings of Rosh Hashanah contrary to misleading news reports. There were many that simply could not arrive to massive flooding on many of the access routes. Food was served and people walked in throughout the day for meals, to meet people, chat and share their honor stories and get some of the trauma out of the system. They were welcomed with cold and warm drinks, a warm and friendly atmosphere and were able to refresh and make use of something as basic as access to a restroom. We had volunteers from a security company pick up RME meals to distribute in areas where people had no access to food.
We were in total news blackout as to what was going on around the island, as it was Yom Tov as well as no one in the area knew what was really going on, as there was no communications, no phone service, no TV or radio and no internet. Slowly word began to spread as to the devastation and destruction to the interior of the islands with massing flooding and deaths reported.
Worry and concern were all over, and people could not reach family or friends and with roads impassable, most of these areas are totally cut off and inaccessible. We keep receiving emails and messages to look our for families or friends in different parts of the island, and we will do all we can to bring back some news. At present we have no way to communicate other than email in certain hotspots and spotty mobile reception with some mobile networks. We are not able to communicate with most of our community members — we desperately hope that will all change shortly.
At present, the entire infrastructure on the island is in total collapse: Total outage of power in the entire Island, buildings and hotels with generators are now in ration mode, as they cannot get refills for their fuel and diesel, minimal gas available and the few that opened have law enforcement guarding them with lines hours long and priority given to emergency and medical personnel. No communications, most of the island without water, 24/7 supermarkets that are icons in the community are opening for limited hours due to limited supplies, businesses open are limited to cash sales resulting from the system collapse – as such there is increased looting and increasing desperateness.
If you would like and are able to join in the efforts click here – ChabadPR.com/Relief
Our current goals for Funding:
Food and water for distribution and essential supplies
Water trucks for portable water
Fuel and gas for Chabad Generator usage – estimated for next six weeks
Twenty-four-hour armed security at Chabad for the next six weeks
Repairs to Chabad center for items not covered by insurance and deductibles
Our heartfelt wishes for a G’mar Chasima Tova, a Year filled with complete health and happiness with blessings for abundance to all. With complete appreciation and admiration for the continued expressions of warmth and friendship by so many from every walk of Jewish life — humbling and inspiring!
Rabbi Mendel and Rachel Zarchi