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Decorah doctor's two-week deployment in Puerto Rico was "kinda scary at times"

Posted: Tue, Jan 9, 2018 3:55 PM

Decorah resident Dr. Kevin Locke says he saw a lot of "tough conditions" when he went to Puerto Rico 10 days after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. 

Locke was part of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services response team of medical workers sent to the island to help.  He spent two weeks on the island, mainly in Arecibo, Puerto Rico--the area hardest hit by the hurricane.

There were no trucks the group could use because there was no gasoline to be found, so US helicopters shuttled the group from San Juan to Arecibo.  The group arrived to find the local hospital operating at 50 to 60 percent of capacity and suffering from shortages of water and electricity.

On their second night, three semis pulled up to the hospital with emergency relief supplies--but there was no operational fork lift to take the packages off the semis.  A 736-pound generator was a particular problem.  Workers created a ramp and pushed the generator off the semi, along with other packages.

Dr. Locke says there was rain every day they were in Puerto Rico and temperatures which often went over 100 degrees.  But an even bigger concern was the safety of relief workers.  Since the doctors were unarmed, carried some drugs and were equipped with food and water, they worried about being jumped by local residents--but that didn't happen.

Locke says many days were spent treating nursing home patients--especially those with chronic conditions such as diabetes.  The relief group doctors took to wearing stethoscopes over their shoulders at all times, so they were clearly identifiable as doctors, so residents knew the group was there to help.

He remembers all the wrecked trees he saw after the hurricane and the "tough conditions" people were living under.  But he says his group had no problems the entire time it was in Puerto Rico and conditions had improved by the time they left.