IT WAS LIKE a bomb had gone off. That's the only way I can describe it.
The Puerto Rico where I grew up was an island of beauty. Clear, blue water; golden sand; always green. But when our flight touched down in San Juan on Sept. 26, I hardly recognized my home. The sand was gone. The trees flattened. The water an ugly brownish-green.
As Puerto Ricans, we grow up with hurricanes. Our houses are made of concrete, even the roofs. When a storm comes, we stock up on food and water, then board up the windows and hunker down. I still remember when Hurricane Georges hit in 1998, when I was in ninth grade. I was with my parents and my two brothers at our house in Mayagüez, 2½ hours west of San Juan. It was crazy. It felt as if the windows were going to fly off our house. We lost power and water for three or four weeks. In times like that, you become best friends with your neighbors. Everyone pitches in, cleaning up and trying to get water, food and ice. But last week was different. Even before Hurricane Maria hit, I knew it would be disastrous. In Puerto Rico a little rainstorm could mean you lose electricity for 24 hours.
I was in Dallas for the start of training camp with the Mavericks when the Category 4 storm made landfall on Sept. 20. It was tough to be that far away, and I couldn't reach anybody for days. Not my parents, not my friends.
I needed to do something. Mavs owner Mark Cuban had texted me after the storm, asking about my family. Mark and I have a great relationship. So I sent him a text: "Crazy idea here any way we can get a plane to take a lot of stuff to PR?"
He responded right away: "I'll check on the Mavs plane."
Thirty minutes later my phone beeped again. I couldn't believe it: Mark had already contacted his aviation team. He said they could make a run as early as Monday. It's hard for me to express how grateful I was.
My wife, Viviana Ortiz, and I set to work right away. We knew that food, water and basic supplies were the most important things, as well as electrical generators. We have an amazing community of Puerto Ricans and Latinos in Dallas, and they were already gathering donations. We collected enough supplies to fill six or seven 18-wheelers.
On Sunday, four days after the storm, I finally heard from my parents, who called from a neighbor's house. They were a little shaken but O.K. On Tuesday, at 5:30 a.m, we took off, carrying 32 generators, 14,000 pounds of water, 10,000 pounds of food and 3,000 pounds of medical supplies. We also brought diapers, pet food, clothing, cleaning supplies and one of life's necessities: toilet paper. With me were my wife and 10 of my best friends from Dallas, almost all Puerto Ricans. That way we'd have the manpower to unload the plane ourselves if we needed to.
We arrived, and I'd never seen the country like this. San Juan was chaos. We did our best to spread out the supplies. While I saw signs of U.S. assistance—the Army, a flight full of N.Y.C. fire-department personnel—let me tell you: It isn't enough. People won't go back to work for six months, maybe a year. Half the people don't have clean water. Plenty don't have homes. Sick people can't get medical assistance. Crime is rising. One of my friends said every day is like a bad movie.
So here's what I'd like to say to anyone reading this story: Every little bit helps. Any contacts you have. Any packages you can get to Puerto Rico right now. By mail. By water or boat. It doesn't matter. Donate money to one of the nonprofits working to provide aid. It's all appreciated.
Last Friday the plane went back. Same flight plan, another load. I couldn't go this time—I can't leave the team. But my wife and my friends went, because we can't just stand by. We need to lift each other up.
"I'd never seen the country like this. While I saw signs of U.S. assistance, let me tell you: It isn't enough."
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP RELIEF EFFORTS IN PUERTO RICO?
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