A native Sunset Park cop is leading by example.
Following the devastation from Hurricane Maria that left over three million residents of Puerto Rico without power and electricity, 72nd Precinct Deputy Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez decided to take a trip to Puerto Rico with other people from local organizations to observe the destruction.
On the island from Thursday,October 5 through Sunday, October 15, Gonzalez and company were shocked and saddened by what they saw.
“It was a humbling experience,” Gonzalez told this paper. “We went straight into the mountainous areas and there are people just waiting to be helped by some type of government official, any type of government official.”
When they arrived, hurricane victims initially thought they had been sent by the government; however Gonzalez and his companions were there on their own.
“I went there on my own off duty as a National Latino Officer Association member,” he said, adding that Hector Gonzalez, who runs Just 3 Arts, a nonprofit and Dennis Flores of El Grito de Sunset Park joined him.
Among the things they brought was insulin and asthma pumps provided by Doctor Juan Cortes, said Gonzalez, stressing, “That medicine was vital. We went in there and just asked how we could help. We did meet many people that needed these medicines, worth thousands of dollars and we gave them freely. There was no required paperwork, just a picture of the individual. At most, they showed empty bottles of asthma sprays.”
With the help of Cortes, the group was able to set up makeshift clinics in the island.
The group went to a refugee center in Isabela. “It was heartbreaking to see,” Gonzalez elaborated. “For example, we saw an eight-year-old kid with multiple issues. He weighs 25 pounds and is on a ventilator. Also, a 28-year-old was relying on life support from a faulty generator. Everyone that saw this generator said it is going to die, and when it dies, they die. The situation was overwhelming.”
Fortunately, Gonzalez said, the child was transported elsewhere thanks to a private benefactor in Miami, but the threat for others remains. “That generator is what is keeping that facility and that refugee center at the Boys and Girls club alive,” he said. “It’s heart-wrenching. I get it there are hardworking FEMA workers out there and soldiers that are working hard. But there’s no water or electricity in the mountainous areas.”
The trip was personal for Gonzalez, whose family is of Puerto Rican descent. “I got calls from family members out there and felt the urgency expressed by the community.
The group intends on returning to Puerto Rico with more supplies and reinforcements. “In Aguadilla, we have a building with three apartments and a storefront. We plan on bringing doctors to create a makeshift clinic. The apartments are empty and we will fill them up with doctors.”
Adrian Roman was also on the trip and he said that portions of San Juan are also suffering. “People were already neglected,” he said. “They are getting containers of non-drinkable water and it’s up to the community to filter or boil the water which is not conducive if you don’t have power.”
Although Sunset Park has gone above and beyond to donate supplies, they aren’t getting to the island. “We had massive fundraising and drives,” said Gonzalez. “We had three shipping containers of food and water that we just can’t get out of Sunset Park. It’s going to take deep pockets.”