Metro humanitarian organization gets creative to help hurricane-ravaged, powerless Puerto Rico

LENEXA, Kan. -- Three million Americans are without power, and it could be months before they get it turned back on. Add to that buildings in ruins, the lack of clean water, and no way to communicate - that's what Puerto Ricans are facing.

Let's take a second to focus on that three million number. The population of Puerto Rico is greater than the entire population of Kansas. And none of them have power.

And the island isn't that big: 110 miles across. That's like driving from Manhattan to Overland Park, or from Blue Springs to Columbia. Except gas is scarce and many roads are impassable.

Heart to Heart International had to get creative to get initial aid to the island.

Using its connections and past experiences, the charity chartered a helicopter from Haiti to Puerto Rico to get two men and 800-pounds of supplies to a hospital in Caguas. Caguas is a city roughly the size of Olathe or Independence, and is about 20 miles south of the capital, in a hilly area of the island.

The only reliable way to reach people now is via satellite phone, which FOX 4 did.

"These people are heroes in the hurricane for continuing to work," said Dr. Gary Morsch.

He is the co-founder of Heart to Heart International, as well as a physician. He was the first person from the charity on the island; others will get there in the coming days.

Morsch found the 10-story hospital in Caguas and immediately relieved one of the physicians.

"What Heart to Heart wants to do is give these doctors and nurses some relief, so they can get home and we can staff the hospital for the next couple of weeks or so."

He continued, "The nurses and the doctors - many of them of them have not even returned to their homes yet. They don't even know the status of whether their homes are damaged or destroyed. They've been working here night and day. Patients are still in the hospital, and more coming."

"These are tough conditions," he added. "No running water, communications are terrible."

"But no one in the hospital has been able to communicate with other hospitals or other authorities. It's a major hospital."

Back in Lenexa, Heart to Heart International COO Kim Carroll says people have been very generous with financial donations, though the charity worries about donor fatigue after three hurricanes. "It's been a tough hurricane season," she said. (Before the hurricanes hit the US, the charity was packing hygiene kits to go to victims of Nepal's mud slides.)

Heart to Heart has several million dollar corporate donors. Many are drug companies, which donate vaccines and medicines to Heart to Heart - which in turn distributes them in places like Puerto Rico, and Texas, and Florida. (It still has staff in all three locations.)

To get all those medications to the people of Puerto Rico, they're taking an unconventional approach.

Since many people cancelled their cruises due to the active tropical weather, Royal Caribbean donated several cabins on a Puerto Rico-bound cruise ship to Heart to Heart this week, and gave the charity its blessing to take as many supplies as its eight volunteers can carry.

Heart to Heart International says the best, most efficient way to help right now is through a financial donation.

Charity Navigator notes that more than 98 percent of the money Heart to Heart International receives goes directly to those who need help. And any money specified for a cause - such as Houston, Florida, or Puerto Rico - will only go to that cause.

Additional links:

Heart to Heart

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