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Remembering Hurricane Maria: Samson Donick reflects on his time helping the island’s recovery  

Samson Donnick was in Puerto Rico to witness the wreckage of Hurricane Maria

On Wednesday, the trees were ravaged by Hurricane Maria in a parking lot at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan. HECTOR RETAMAL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

It’s been nearly five years since Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean islands. But Samson Donick hasn’t forgotten.

That’s because he witnessed the devastation firsthand. When the Category 5 hurricane ripped across Puerto Rico and its neighboring islands, Samson Donick took action. Although he was residing thousands of miles away, the New York-based entrepreneur and data scientist relocated to Puerto Rico to assist with the recovery efforts.  

In the hurricane’s aftermath, Samson Donick worked as a volunteer and team leader with the Cruz Roja Americana (American Red Cross). He became a member of the specialized Disaster Relief Field Services team.  Almost all team members were local Puerto Ricans, some of whom had lost their own homes in the hurricane.  The team’s primary focus was to help people in the most remote parts of the island, especially those with medical disabilities who needed power for respirators and other medical devices.  This special unit was also dispatched to assist rural communities that still lacked power and were in many ways still cut off from the rest of the island.  

Even though he found this work incredibly rewarding, it was never easy. And it started early. Before 7:00 am each day, he would coordinate with his team and prepare for the day. They would load vans and trucks with the equipment and supplies they intended to deliver that day. Typically, this included solar-powered lamps, solar panels, batteries, gas, and gas generators, as the team’s primary goal was to restore power to families still suffering without it months after the storm. At the same time, Samson Donick and his team would also transport toys, water filters, food, and other day-to-day items that were scarce or unavailable for affected families.  Sometimes Samson Donick and his team would go door to door to deliver these items.  Other times, they would coordinate mass distributions at central community sites around the island.

This work took Samson Donick all across Puerto Rico daily. Often, Samson Donick was only provided vague directions and not an actual address to follow.  Far from the world of data science, Samson Donick had limited access to technology as he tried to find these remote, unmarked homes.  With minimal information, he could find homes in the most rural areas by using roadside signs to get close and then speaking with locals or going door to door to find the family.  Given the widespread need, Samson Donick would occasionally complete multiple laps around the island within the same day.  Finally, long after dark, he would return to San Juan most nights around 10 p.m. 

Samson Donick developed friendships and relationships in Puerto Rico that he maintains today. While in Puerto Rico, he also saved a young girl from drowning in a riptide at Ocean Park beach in San Juan, a beach that had once had public lifeguards before the storm.  For their efforts, Samson Donick and his partner were at one point featured on Telemundo.  While he’s since continued volunteer work with New York’s ACLU chapter, the NYCLU,  Samson Donick keeps coming back to his time on the island and his experiences there that had a transformative impact on his life.

As Samson Donick pursues his personal business ventures, he takes a piece of the island with him. Hurricane Maria was one of the 21st century’s deadliest storms. As he reflects on all that was lost, Samson Donick is proud he was able to play a small role in the recovery efforts.

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