With the recent devastation inflicted by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has been left in a condition that is barely habitable. The island remains without power, lacks clean drinking water, has major flooding hazards and the shelters are packed full of people looking for aid and direction. It's truly an apocalyptic event. A storm of this magnitude has not terrorized the island since 1928. The last hurricane to make landfall was Hurricane George in 1998.
It’s no secret that Puerto Rico’s economy has been struggling in recent years but this blow may be the one to bring it to its knees. The electrical grid on the island was already out of date and fragile before the storm and now it has been rendered 100% inoperable and quickly turning into a humanitarian crisis.
The objective of my search and rescue mission is to locate my sister, Marilyn Santiago (24) and her three young daughters (ages 1 to 5). Since the storm hit, I have not heard from her at all. I have reached some of my family on the island but NO ONE has been able to locate or communicate with her.
This is why I need YOUR help! In order to pull this off, I will need to gather the essential items needed to navigate the island, survive on my own in the islands harsh conditions and locate Marilyn and the girls.
I will start with her home, and then branch out from there to local shelters. I will connect with her neighbors and anyone that knows her locally. The mission doesn’t end there! I will then need to escort her, the children and myself back to the north coast so we can make safe passage via San Juan International Airport to the United States, and ultimately Minnesota so she can recover from the disaster. This will require me to take a leave of absence from my employer as I cannot accurately predict how long this mission will take. I will be leaving for the island as soon as possible pending travel information and the delivery of my essential supplies.
THE STORY OF MARILYN AND I
The tale of Marilyn and I is not your typical brother and sister story. I did not grow up with Marilyn. I only learned about her in recent years when I was searching for my father. My father and I had been disconnected for over 20 years but I was able to locate him in 2011. I had traveled to Puerto Rico in search of him and was able to track him down and reconnect. However when I located him, he was terminally ill with stage 4 stomach cancer. I immediately relocated him to my home in Minnesota where I could give him the best care possible. Unfortunately after 5 months of amazing memories and countless stories, he passed away. My heart was broken but there was an amazing thing that came from our reconnection, he told me that I had a sister named Marilyn.
This was the first time I had ever met or spoke to her. We immediately connected even though my Spanish was horrible and she did not know English. This inspired Marilyn to learn English, and we have had a wonderful relationship since that day. Our father brought us together just as he was leaving us both.
MY DESTINATIONMarilyn lives in the southern portion of the island on the outskirts of Ponce. This is a region that was hit hard by Hurricane Maria as it passed from the South East corner towards the North West sector. Marilyn’s home is directly adjacent to a large man-made water passage that caused major flooding in Ponce. She lives on the ground level, so it is almost certain that her residence was flooded but I won’t have a clear picture of the destination until I have boots on the ground in Ponce but my local intel confirms this.
I have no doubt that travelling from the north coast near San Juan, across the entire island to the southern city of Ponce will be difficult. With roadways being closed, no electricity, no fuel, no drinkable water, hazardous debris and countless health factors all attempting to render this effort ineffective, I am certain that I can effectively rescue my sister and nieces from the wake of this storm. I cannot imagine how they are surviving currently and with resources quickly running out, so is time.
I will be have an open line of communication via satellite telephone (similar to the one I used while deployed to Iraq). After I touch down in San Juan and start heading south towards Ponce. While I will not be updating social media directly, I will have a representative making posts and keeping everyone updated on my progress, location and health status. I will also be documenting the entire mission with photos and a journal.
HELPING ALONG THE WAY
I will cross paths with countless numbers of people and hopefully I can help some of them reach out to their families that they have lost contact with since communications and power was knocked out after the storm. I will help these people by allowing them use of the satellite phone to call their distant family and let them know thier status! It will be amazing to see how far a simple phone call will go in this crippled infrastructure. I will also post the names of people I come across that want to let the world know that they are okay, and render first aid where it is needed. The reality is that with 3.5 million people affected, it will take along time to reach everyone. Hopefully I can help some of those who have not been helped yet, along my journey.
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME
My name is AJ Santiago and I am Marilyn's brother and I currently live in Minnesota. Some people will think that I am crazy for doing this, but I assure you this is not my first rodeo. As an active duty veteran ,I am military trained to survive, navigate and succeed. I have endured being deployed for 27 months in Iraq between two tours of duty. I have deployed to Haiti to assist in humanitarian aid for the Haiti population. I was deployed for 12 months to Central America, and conducted numerous humanitarian efforts in that region.
Please support my mission and my efforts to aid the people of Puerto Rico. I am a 100% proud Puerto Rican with a family of my own. I was taught early that family is the most important thing in life. I will do anything to protect it.
Funds are needed immediately. I am preparing to travel immediately. Funds will be used for but not limited to cover my preparation, LOA, home base operations, gear, travel, survival, bargaining, food, water, transportation, lodging and any unexpected situations that arise. Once I return, funds will be used to get Marilyn settled into Minnesota and into the workforce.
Donations of any denomination are appreciated. Donations of gear, services, frequent flyer miles or some other unforseen item are appreciated as well.
If you can't donate, that is okay! Please share this on any social media site you wish. This will help me find donations.
Thank you and god bless.
Damage Photos Courtesy of CNN
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