Widespread Damage -- This aerial view of a Puerto Rico neighborhood shows the devastation after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island on Sept. 20. Photo by Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
As a Toyota de Puerto Rico (TdPR) team member, David Montelongo knows the devastation that Hurricane Maria has ravaged on the island. But with estimates that power won’t be fully restored for months and mass shortages of basic necessities, he’s bewildered that Puerto Rico isn’t getting the national attention it needs.
Montelongo, who has been with Toyota for 10 years, has been working as a field product engineer at TdPR since March 2016. He’s one of 106 TdPR team members, 80 Toyota Financial Services (TFS) and five Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) team members on assignment there supporting distributor and dealership technical operations.
All team members have been accounted for since the hurricane struck on Sept. 20.
In response, TMNA and TFS flew 2,000 pounds of relief cargo to Puerto Rico and are working to obtain fuel trucks to provide fuel to team members and generators at our facilities.
TdPR also has made an in-kind donation to the Red Cross for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including supplies, two 4x4 vehicles and a fleet of drivers to help transport supplies to relief centers.
Daily Struggle -- Countless homes were damaged during the Category 4 hurricane and, after two weeks, the availability of food, clean water and power continues to be a struggle for the 3.4 million people living on the island. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
About two weeks before Hurricane Maria, the eye of Hurricane Irma passed just north of Puerto Rico, knocking out power for 1 million people. Montelongo and his family of four and two dogs evacuated on a last-minute plane to ride out the Category 5 storm.
Shortly after, he learned about Hurricane Maria from a hurricane tracker app. Knowing how quickly flights sell out before a hurricane, he booked plane tickets for his family, believing their safety was a priority. They arrived in Chicago, their hometown, one day before Hurricane Maria ripped apart the island inhabited by 3.4 million U.S. citizens.
Thankfully, their home was spared the wrath of Hurricane Maria.
“Miraculously, we didn’t suffer any flood damage or windows breaking so we were able to open up our home to three other families who weren’t so fortunate,” Montelongo says. “Our building has a generator and cistern, which is why these families can stay there more comfortably. What we’re hearing is the conditions are horrible with food, water, fuel, medical supply shortages, impassable roads and extremely limited cell phone service. It’s unimaginable.”
As part of his work in Puerto Rico, Montelongo frequently traveled to Toyota’s 21 dealerships and two Lexus dealerships there. His territory also included a Toyota dealership in St. Thomas and one in St. Croix, which also have been devastated by the hurricanes.
“Puerto Rico has a diverse geography: It’s very mountainous, rural and lush with vegetation,” he says. “Homes and dealerships are in the mountains with two-lane roads. The excess rain created mudslides down the mountains and wiped out homes, and the high winds were pushing trees down into the roads. The many homes built with tin roofs were unable to withstand a storm of this magnitude.”
Now that he’s temporarily working from the Chicago Region, Montelongo is taking product training classes and contributing to Toyota’s disaster recovery efforts. He hopes that team members keep the island in their thoughts and prayers.
“The people of Puerto Rico are a faith-based community and their faith is what is holding them up,” he says. “There are very good people there and they’re not receiving the help that they desperately need. You want people to participate in some way, not just for the financial help, but because you want them to care.”
If you want to support the American Red Cross or other charities, make a donation by clicking on one of the links below. Toyota matches all team member contributions made through the Toyota4Good program.
TMNA and TFS team members click here
Legacy TEMA team members click here
By Karen Nielsen