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Three Kings celebration takes serious tone post-hurricane María

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

 

Club Taino Puertorriqueño held its annual Three Kings celebration in a festive atmosphere Saturday evening, Jan. 6, 2018, but the event took on serious overtones as people who took part in recent medical missions described the ongoing devastation suffered in Puerto Rico following Hurricane María last September 20.

 

“People are dying, because of the lack of medical care and medicine,” club president María González told the gathering. She just returned last week from her third medical mission. She introduced other members of the medical mission teams in attendance at the celebration—including Byron Wynn, volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Toledo Diocese, and Dr. Irma Santiago, a native of Puerto Rico.

 

Luis Moctesema, who will turn 58 next month, returned to his hometown of Yabucoa during the first two medical missions and vows to return later this year to continue to help his friends and former neighbors. He spent his first 40 years in Puerto Rico before coming to the U.S. and plans to go back in retirement once he finishes his career at the BP refinery in Oregon. His mother still lives on the island territory, along with much of his family.

 

“For me, it was a shock. I immediately noticed that the vegetation was brown. Normally you see all the vegetation as green, everything is green. The last hurricane I had seen there was George in 1999,” he said. “When I got to Yabucoa, everything was brown. I was crying because I never saw that before.”

 

But that was only the beginning of the devastation he would witness. His hometown is where Hurricane María made landfall, a community surrounded by mountains in a horseshoe shape.

 

“We not only went to my hometown, we went to my neighborhood—to see my family, to see my people. It was impactful for me,” he said. “They were smiling when we were there, but I know that they were desperate. On the last day, though, we saw the hope in their eyes.”

 

Moctesema used his government connections wherever possible to help the medical missions and his hometown residents. He worked for the water department there for 16 years before leaving for the U.S. Many of the patients they saw were suffering diarrhea and vomiting, symptoms he attributed to tainted water.

 

“Turned out they were not treating the water, because the pump kept going out. So I started making calls and visiting people to fix the problem and we saw the symptoms going down immediately,” he recalled. “I went to a radio station, one of the few that was working and advised people to boil the water. Get a piece of tree, cut it, make a fire, and boil the water. We helped instruct the people how to survive—and that is a satisfaction that I can bring back.”

 

He was also among the teams that treated more than 1,500 patients during the three medical missions in and around Yabucoa, part of it spent in mountainside camps and clinics.

 

“We saw people in the hills, people who could not come to the center. So we took an ambulance up there. We used a chain saw to get access to the place because there was a lot of trees down,” he said. “We treated a lot of people who desperately needed it. Those doctors were amazing. They were angels.”

 

According to Moctesema, the teams saw three heart attacks happen and nearly delivered a baby in a campside clinic. By his estimate, 40 percent of the patients they saw had diabetes-related issues. That was perhaps what shocked him most.

 

“I try to pay back what my town gave to me, because I am very proud of being born and growing up in Yabucoa,” he said. “That is my place. I love my place here, but that is my hometown.”

 

“They were supportive of us. They cooked for us. They were there with us every step of the way,” Ms. González told the crowd of the Yabucoa residents. “They were sad to see us go the first time. They were very happy when we came back the second time. On the third time, they said ‘we’ll see you next month!’”

 

While the vegetation is starting to return to its normal lush green state, four months later, Yabucoa still has no electricity. Moctesema stated only the downtown area has any power, which is coming from a large generator. He predicted the remote community would be the last on the island to see its lights come back—possibly a year after the hurricane.

 

Moctesema was unable to join the third medical mission because he ran out of vacation time at work. He plans to return during the summer, so he can use his local government experience to help the community leaders there plan their rebuilding effort. He hopes electricity will mostly be restored by then.

 

He flew an aunt to the U.S. for medical treatment and monitoring for a condition where she faints. She is currently living in New York state with other relatives “because she cannot be left alone in that condition,” according to Moctesema. But other family will remain on the island.

 

“I think that they are going to survive,” he said, but he’ll remain in constant contact to be sure.

 

The Three Kings Day celebration dinner and dance was held at Sylvania Area Family Services, 5440 Marshall Rd., Sylvania. The celebration included a children’s play, raffles, and a D.J. The proceeds from the event will go toward future medical missions in Puerto Rico.

 

“I think it’s important to continue helping the island. In spite of all the help that has gone down there, there is still a lot of work to do,” said Moctesema.

 

“It is going to take years—for the infrastructure, to rebuild the houses, and the problems compiling because of the debris everywhere,” said Ms. González. “That is creating another situation with rats, all kinds of insects, roaches. We treated a lot of infections from open sores and cuts because of the poor water quality.”

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2018 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/10/18 03:37:59 -0800.

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