CANOVANAS, Puerto Rico – The Latin American non-governmental organization Techo, based in Chile, is building dozens of modular houses for Puerto Rico residents who lost their homes when Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September.
Argentina architect Francisco Susmel, the head of the Techo project in Puerto Rico, told EFE on Tuesday that the homes they are building are units that have the necessary technical adjustments to withstand a hurricane, such as additional anchoring within the structure and flooring.
After arriving on the island last October, Susmel visited about 15 towns to analyze where the greatest need existed to rebuild homes, selecting the San Isidro neighborhood of Canovanas, in eastern San Juan.
“Arriving here was complicated, at a very critical time, with no electricity, no Internet, no telephone connection,” said the 31-year-old, who admitted that “even today there still are problems getting materials.”
And four months after Maria, San Isidro still does not have electricity and its streets have been completely ruined by the rains, which has made getting heavy equipment into the area to clean up the debris difficult.
“It hasn’t been easy, but the reality is that there are many volunteers and citizens who want to work and who want to make a commitment to their neighbors by putting forth their effort. They’ve simplified things for us. People want to move forward, but in another way it’s been complicated,” he said.
Techo was invited to the island by Puerto Rican rapper Residente, who arrived here several weeks after Maria’s passage along with the NGO’s volunteers to evaluate how to respond to the emergency, which had left thousands of local residents homeless.
Techo canvassed 95 local families and found that 87 percent said that the lack of electricity was the main problem, followed by lack of housing (79 percent), roof repair (71 percent), access to potable water (65 percent) and removal of debris (64 percent).
Fifty-two percent said that the damage to their homes was unable to be repaired and 21 percent said they had lost their homes altogether.
Techo completed four before yearend and is currently working on four more.
Susmel said that he expects to remain in Puerto Rico until April or May, adding that the NGO is seeking $2 million in donations or other funding to continue with its work on the island, which includes mobilizing 3,000 volunteers to build more than 250 homes for the affected families.