A group of seven first responders and mental health specialists came to San Juan on Friday, September 23, to help the nation’s citizens recover from Hurricane Fiona.
Residents of the island nation were severely affected by the hurricane, especially those in the southwest, where many had prolonged power and water outages. The multinational team—5 members from Israel and 2 from the United States—set out to start helping after swiftly organizing supplies and speaking with local authorities and rescuers.
Gavy Friedson, the mission’s head and a native of Washington, D.C., said, “Our team specializes in providing emergency medical assistance as well as psychological first aid.”
She works with United Hatzalah of Israel as the Director of International Emergency Management. Four professionals in the field of “psychotrauma and crisis response,” who have been assisting people in overcoming emotional challenges following exposure to horrific events brought on by the hurricane, were brought in for this assignment.
Many locals have lost their homes and businesses and are unsure what to do next. Our staff focuses on bringing people back to a stable emotional and psychological state and helps them develop their local support system to understand they are not alone.
The Chabad community’s leaders in San Juan, Rabbi Mendel, and Rachel Zarchi, welcomed the team when they arrived in Puerto Rico.
They also set them up with Levid Ortiz, the director of PR4PR, who has been leading assistance initiatives for many of the island’s poor neighborhoods.
Because of his connections to local authorities throughout the island, Ortiz has been very helpful in linking the United Hatzalah relief team with towns and people that need aid but have not yet received assistance from other organizations or the government.
“Puerto Rico experienced a lot of damage to people’s homes as soon as we got hit by Hurricane Fiona,” stated Ortiz. “Since the storm hit, many people have been without access to clean water or energy, and we desperately need assistance. I appreciate United Hatzalah of Israel’s support for the Anasco people today and look forward to cooperating with them throughout their mission.
People started to pay attention after the squad began its operations in the city.
The local community has shown a ton of interest in and support for our goal, according to Friedson. People started asking about our goal as we were making our early preparations after noticing our uniforms and the Israeli flags on our shirts.
They showed a desire to join us once we described what we were doing. One of the hotel security officers, a certified EMT, and a current medical student, approached us and offered to join our team.
We generously embraced him, and he joined our medical team and served as our translator.