Puerto Ricans seek jobs at rain forest in wake of María
SAN JUAN – Hundreds of residents from towns in the Puerto Rico’s eastern region flocked to the Ovidio de Jesús Stadium in Río Grande in the hopes of finding employment
Anxious and impatient, dozens detailed their skills to El Yunque National Forest personnel, who with empathy and kindness took down the data by hand on notebooks. Recovery work is expected to begin in the coming weeks, after the destruction wreaked by Hurricane María.
During an orientation given in English by the supervisor of the ecologic reserve, Sharon Wallace, which was translated into Spanish, it was learned that El Yunque was severely affected by Hurricane Irma, whose damage was topped by Hurricane María.
Thus, when its entrance via PR-191–which leads to Portal del Yunque and recreational areas such as La Coca, the Yokahu Tower, the Juan Diego Stream, La Mina, Palo Colorado, Mont Britton and Los Picachos–will be opened is uncertain.
Since the level of the federal forest reserve personnel is insufficient, the first phase of recruitment was launched.
“With María, an additional 20% was damage since Irma. The forest was hurt greatly. El Yunque is important for work and also for recreation because many people use it to recreate and refresh themselves in rivers and streams,” Wallace told some 500, mostly young, people who lost their jobs in the aftermath of Hurricane Marría and literally need to work doing whatever is available.
“A lot of people have come to ask about work, but communication and logistics are needed. The fuel supply has normalized, but communication is important because in case someone has an accident communication is necessary to offer help,” said the forest supervisor who dealt with two major hurricanes in a span of two weeks, adding that “there is a lot of work and we need a great army of people to do it.”
For the time being, former Forest Service employees, who are identified “by their red card,” will be given priority, she said.
“They are the first to be recruited to create leadership positions. They must be calm. I know we’re desperate, but we’re going to need a lot of help,” Wallace said. “First we have to have an organization pyramid with those who have experience to be leaders and to help and supervise those who have skills.”
Wallace acknowledged that food, water and equipment supplies will be needed for staff who will be recruited temporarily.
Access to El Yunque will be through PR-191, on PR-3, in the Palmer sector of the municipality.
However, Wallace acknowledged that El Yunque is not limited to the PR-191 recreational area and that the rainforest range encompasses such towns as Canóvanas, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo and Las Piedras.
The damage inflicted on the rain forest is evident. The reserve lost its peculiar green color, and from a distance now looks reddish-brown, as if an atomic bomb had been detonated in the area.
“PR-191 is the priority, but all areas are important. First let’s restore 191 for tourism and the economy. Maybe the other areas can be opened,” Wallace said.
Aware of the collapse in telecommunications, Wallace agreed with those present that they will meet Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Ovidio de Jesús Stadium. “We will also post newsletters at Palmer’s post office,” said the official, who kindly answered everyone’s questions.
The administration El Yunque National Forest lost its offices in the Portal. The devastation, compared with hurricanes Hugo and Georges, is unprecedented, and its recovery is estimated to take several years.