Climbing Out of a Hurricane
HOW CLIMBERS ARE BRINGING BACK PUERTO RICO
In October 2017, Leandro Taraborrelli gave the most important belay of his life. The Red Cross Team leader was standing on a washed-out bridge over Puerto Rico’s Arecibo River, using a rope to belay 20 doctors and pharmacists up a rickety ladder. In the riverbed below, a team of fellow climbers guided the volunteers, who’d come to help Puerto Rico rebuild after the devastation wrought in September 2017 by Hurricane Maria. A pipe had ruptured upstream, contaminating the river with sewage.
Their goal was R’o Abajo, a neighborhood in Puerto Rico’s mountainous Utuado region. Sixty miles from San Juan, the community had been isolated for weeks after the category 4 hurricane, going so long without aid that its residents had come to call it El Campamento del los Olvidados: “The Camp of the Forgotten.”
In the months since Maria, Taraborrelli and other Puerto Rican climbers have worked full-time to bring aid to the remote corners of the island—to places like Rio Abajo.
“We’ve been in those areas climbing and canyoneering,” says Nicole Vidal, another team leader, who worked alongside Taraborrelli and local boulderer Carlos Salinas and who is also Taraborrelli's wife and business part- ner. Through their company, Moca Climbing + Coaching, Vidal and Taraborrelli have spent two years guiding clients around the island’s half-dozen sport crags, jungle canyons, and caves. While most Red Cross crews performed bulk distributions, the “mountain-climber teams” hit the back roads.
“Our motto was always to go to the very, very end,” says Vidal. Often that meant clearing roads with chainsaws and rigging Tyrolean traverses across otherwise impassable rivers. They distributed food and water, water-purification systems, solar panels and lanterns, and small generators on an island where almost a third of the 3.4 million residents still
POST- MARIA, LOCAL CLIMBER USAMA HAMID NUMAN WORKS TO FREE A SUPPLY TRUCK I N THE ADJUNTAS REGION.