If you live in the United States, you know that the water in your home or at work is perfectly safe for drinking. That also was the case in Puerto Rico until Hurricane Maria ravaged the island last year. The storm crawled across the island, wrecking everything in its path and dumping up to 30 inches of rain. It ripped off roofs and tore structures apart, snapped thousands of power poles, and wiped out the electrical grid. The entire island went dark. Mountain communities were cut off, and fishing villages along the coast lost their docks and marinas. Deep water became shallow, and reefs were buried under tons of sand. Maria was the most powerful storm to hit the island since 1932.
When OBI’s advance team arrived after the storm, we met with the mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, of San Juan asking what we could do to help. She said safe drinking water was a critical need. We immediately purchased nine reverse osmosis water systems from our faithful corporate ally, Parker Hannifin, and flew them in. The systems are capable of turning sea or raw fresh water into pure drinking water. Since electricity was in short supply, we purchased generators locally and ordered 30 more to be shipped in from the U.S. mainland. We also flew in high-capacity chlorine generators, hand-held chlorine generators, community size chlorine generators, Kohler Clarity household water filters, and hundreds of thousands of water purification tablets.
Mayor Cruz invited us to set up headquarters in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum that served as her emergency operating center and the largest shelter on the island. The OBI team installed a reverse osmosis system to process untreated city water and supply the coliseum kitchen where over 4,000 meals a day were being served to displaced citizens. We also installed three San-6 chlorine generators and ran double shifts to produce 300 gallons of chlorine daily. The mayor’s team distributed the chlorine for surface disinfection as well as mold control. Our team was also busy doing other things to assist storm victims, like distributing thousands of solar lights and funding production of fresh bread.
One of the biggest concerns was getting the more than 1,100 public schools open. In late October, Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) flew in to see what she and her colleagues could do to help reopen the schools. Lack of safe water for students was one of the biggest obstacles. Mayor Cruz suggested that the AFT work with OBI. We agreed to form a consortium called Operation Agua with support from the local teachers union called AMPR, AFSCME, the Hispanic Foundation, the Seafarers Union, and TOTE Maritime, a shipping company that agreed to provide free ocean shipment to support the cause.
AFT volunteered to raise over $2 million for the purchase of thousands of Kohler Clarity water filters and other safe water equipment. OBI agreed to handle all logistics, technical support, training, and distribution. I’m happy to report that Operation Agua has been an enormous success. Over 30,000 Kohler filters are in use with 25,000 more on the way as of this writing, and 1,106 schools have already been served, blessing over 274,000 students.
Besides the obvious benefits to the people of Puerto Rico, I want you to be aware of how your donations to have been multiplied. By joining hands with AFT and other Operation Agua partners, OBI has served as a force multiplier for your donations, which enabled us to help at least ten times as many storm victims as we could have done on our own.