Hurricane Maria Recovery: Firsthand Account of Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa AmeriCorps Member Landon Acre-Kendall

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, several member organizations of The Corps Network have sent crews to Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coordination of most of these deployments has been through the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team (A-DRT) program

Corpsmembers from across the country have assisted with a range of activities, including clearing debris, coordinating volunteers and donations, conducting damage assessments, and helping muck, gut and tarp homes. Below, read the firsthand account of Landon Acre-Kendall, an AmeriCorps member from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) who deployed to Puerto Rico in November.

By Landon Acre-Kendall, CCMI AmeriCorps Member

When our AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team had our first day in the field, it truly became clear that Maria held nothing back on the island. The landscape was a ruin of decimated vegetation. The trees were plucked out of the ground like weeds. There was endless debris and trash piled above my head on sidewalks and scattered about open areas. People were living in destroyed homes without roofs, power, and water. It was an eye-opening experience and it motivated us to work that much harder, every day, for those less fortunate then us in Puerto Rico. 

To me, one of the most enlightening and heartwarming aspects of my deployment was working with all the new people we met in Puerto Rico and getting to know our own teams so well. The members and supervisors from Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) were great. Elliot always surprised us with his own blend of strange and unexpected humor and, at the same time, was a very professional and knowledgeable Incident Commander. The people from other teams and organizations, such as California Conservation Corps (CCC), Team Rubicon, and Samaritan's Purse, all made lasting impressions on us as well. However, the friendships and teams created within CCMI will be everlasting. We all grew to know each other very quickly and, within weeks, it felt as though I'd known these people my entire life. 

Another part of my trip that I will always remember will be my interactions with the local people of Puerto Rico. Though there was a language barrier, I could always read the voices and faces of the people around me. I would see elderly couples laugh, smile, and say thanks to me and my team and it was always a touching moment. I saw a younger couple with a baby and children have sighs of relief and cries of joy and laughter as they watched a tree come falling down from a very hazardous situation on top of their house. Though I couldn't fully understand their words, I thought as though I could feel what they were saying. 

My favorite part of being here was using our specialized skillset for an amazing cause. I will always remember one of the bigger trees we tackled (see image). One afternoon we were canvasing for a job and we stopped to talk to some locals. When we mentioned that we cut trees, one old man’s eyes lit up and he started talking about a giant tree blocking entrance to his entire house. He was talking about how, every day, he would be forced to climb through a massive tree's hazardous wreckage just to access his house. We followed him around a couple blocks to his house as he told us bits about his life. This man once lived in the mainland United States and was a horse jockey for several years. When we arrived at his house we immediately were excited by the challenge of this project. We slowly took apart the massive tree piece by piece. It was one of my favorite big jobs with a very grateful and kind man. I will never forget his face or his house. 

Puerto Rico was a great experience. I feel as though I've grown a lot as a person, but, more importantly this trip has inspired me to grow even more beyond this trip alone and never stop growing. I want to continue to inspire and help others for the rest of my life.