A team of technical staff from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is heading to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that struck the island in late September.
NRCS is sending a group of 17 technical staff members from around the United States, with California sending one state director and three engineers. Carlos Suarez is the State Conservationist from California who will be joining the effort. Suarez noted that the team of specialists consists of “engineers, soil scientists, soil conservationists, and agronomists with experience in this type of emergency watershed protection work.”
The group expects to spend between three and four weeks on the island to “assess the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, specifically as it relates soil erosion, debris removal, or debris that is blocking canals and rivers, and potential for more mudslides,” said Suarez. The team will be evaluating the best method to implement NRCS conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
“Our goal is, first and foremost, identify what we call exigency sites,” said Suarez. Those are areas that pose immediate threats to life and property. The first step will be identifying sites that have the most need and prioritize which areas will require the quickest response. Suarez noted these relief efforts are being undertaken through “coordination with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture and also with the municipalities of the island.”
The journey to render aid after the hurricane will be especially meaningful for Suarez, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and did not come to the U.S. until he was 25 years old. While Suarez has prior experience with disaster relief, he also understands that “no matter how professional I am, or the skills that I have, I know it’s going to hit me emotionally.” Many of the team members also have ties with the island, but Suarez is confident the team will accomplish their mission. “I know it’s going to be emotional, but we are ready for the challenge.”
Listen to Suarez’s full interview.
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