Credit union insurer CUNA Mutual has four disaster response teams working in Puerto Rico as the island struggles to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
Government officials described conditions on the island as “apocalyptic”, with more than half of its 3.4million people reported over the weekend to be without access to drinking water.
Half of Puerto Rico’s roads are still to be cleared and 95% of electric customers are without power, local officials said on Sunday.
CUNA Mutual sent its teams to the island on 23 September, three days after the hurricane struck, to help its colleagues through the recovery process.
The teams brought emergency supplies including satellite phones, solar chargers, made-ready-to-eat meals, drinking water treatment kits, first aid kits, batteries and flashlights. Additional supplies such as toiletries, camping showers and paper plate are following.
As well as a lack of power and water, credit unions are hampered by damage to mobile coverage, with only 14% of the island’s cell towers restored to working order, as of Sunday.
Wendy Serafin, a spokeswoman for the insurer – which looks after co-ops, credit unions and their members around the world, told Credit Union Times: “In San Juan, basic infrastructure is starting to get cleaned up, but no significant improvements yet. For example, there are signs that mobile service seems to be starting to come back, but it tends to be spotty.”
The CUNA Mutual teams are assisting the team of 12 employees at the organisation’s San Juan office. Additional disaster responders will be on the way next week to help Puerto Rico’s credit unions.
“We are focused on helping meet their needs as recovery efforts continue,” added Ms Serafin. “The employees are using the CUNA Mutual office to get relief, make phone calls, water and help family members.”
Generators are powering the San Juan office but only for four hours a day to conserve fuel, with the workers taking it in turns to queue for gas.
John Fairbanks, public affairs specialist at the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which regulates US credit unions, said there were 11 federally chartered credit unions in Puerto Rico (eight) and the Virgin Islands (five).
He said the status of three is unknown, three more have yet to open and five are opening under limited hours.
An appeal to help credit unions in the Caribbean is being operated by the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) at www.woccu.org/give.
The National Credit Union Foundation has a specific fund for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, at CUAid.coop.
And Co-operatives UK has set up an appeal, supported by Co-operative News, to help co-ops and credit unions rebuild after the spate of disasters that have hit the Caribbean and South Asia. To make a donation, visit: www.uk.coop/2017appeal.