Albion woman recounts mission to Puerto Rico

Red Cross Volunteer left home to bring hope

A Puerto Rican survivor of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, left, gives American Red Cross volunteer Mary Dooley of Albion a hug recently at a Red Cross shelter. Dooley was stationed 10 days on the island following both hurricanes providing aid and comfort.

Mary Dooley of Albion is a seasoned Red Cross volunteer.

She has been deployed many times to provide aid and comfort to those suffering from natural disasters.

But memories of her recent 10-day mission to Puerto Rico will last a lifetime.

The island is reeling from a powerful “one-two” punch, first from Hurricane Irma, followed by Hurricane Maria.

“One survivor told me ‘Hurricane Irma damaged my home’,” Dooley said. ” ‘Then Hurricane Maria destroyed it.’ “

Food and water are being rationed in some locales.

A lack electricity and communication networks adds to the misery.

Diesel fuel is being sent from the U.S. to supply generators needed for electricity.

Major media outlets are reporting U.S. military units are working overtime to bring in food, medical supplies and water.

Residents are lining up at airports in hopes of catching flights out.

A special place

Puerto Rico — a U.S. Territory — holds a special spot in Dooley’s heart.

However, it has a separate government.

At birth, citizens earn U.S. citizenship, and can travel freely in the U.S.

“My first deployment out of Iowa was to Puerto Rico some time ago,” she said. “So I came full circle. I have visited several times. My brother lived in Puerto Rico for 20 years, and raised his family there. I have a niece and her family in San Juan … my trip was humanitarian and personal.”

On Sept. 17, Dooley departed for Puerto Rico to help with post-hurricane Irma disaster operations. At the time, Hurricane Maria was identified only as a storm.

“Based on information then, we thought it (Maria) was going to be a small storm. But from Sept. 17 through Sept 20, it built up power to turn into a lethal hurricane.”


Dooley found herself and others waiting out Hurricane Maria in a San Juan building.

“It was frightening, and I don’t frighten easily,” she said. “For Iowans, who have been trained to go underground when a tornado approaches … to be then sheltered above ground … to feel the building moving … to feel the wind around windows … to see the curtains blowing around … it was scary.”

Authorities moved Dooley and others another flight up, once because windows began to crack … regardless of paneling installed outside for protection. Then moved again two flights up to a fourth floor … up to an interior hallway.

Winds blew 125 to 150 miles per hour all day.

“It is something I will never forget, and do not care to repeat,” Dooley said. “We did come through it fine … ours was a concrete building as many are. Neighboring buildings did suffer window and other damage.”

Hurricane Maria’s impact

“Some reports said Hurricane Maria flattened the whole country … that is inaccurate,” Dooley said. “But it did cause wide-spread devastation. It took down towers, trees … it stripped the vegetation … . My husband and I visited in February, when everything was lush and green. Now it is brown and barren”

Critically, Hurricane Maria severely damaged the island’s communication network of cell phone towers.

“We are so used to having connectivity at our finger tips,” Dooley said.

Red Cross was able to communicate through apps and satellite phones.

Post hurricane, the veteran volunteer and others were dispatched to hand out water and comfort residents.

“What we gave them was hope … that is what the Red Cross does … gives hope,”

The veteran volunteer is urging readers and others

to donate money generously to the American Red Cross and not supplies.

“With cash, the Red Cross knows when and where to apply resources so the largest number of victims can be helped immediately,” she said. “Donated supplies can be difficult and expensive to move … it requires a lot of labor as well … cash is best.”

For more information, or to donate, contact 1-800-RED-CROSS or


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or