Messages in a Bottle

It was the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. A category 4 storm with winds of 155 miles per hour. It obliterated the power and housing infrastructure of the island. Caused widespread flooding. Knocked out all communications. Displaced thousands.

The Spanish name of Maria, ironically, means “bitter.” And on September 20, 2017 Hurricane Maria did her part in leaving Puerto Ricans feeling that way.

But many UPSers, like Global Freight Forwarding Manager Juan Zorrilla, H.R. Manager Ilka Ramon, and Country Manager Jose Oramas, tried to stay positive.

“There was no other choice—we were going forward with this” says Juan.

These UPSers, and many others, set about the task of not just getting UPS up and running, but getting the entire island back on its feet.

Priority #1 was confirming the status of the nearly 500 UPSers who work in Puerto Rico. With no way to communicate, UPSers got creative and came up with a grass roots method of letting management know they were okay—by leaving handwritten notes in a plastic water bottle outside one of the main hubs. In these “messages in a bottle,” UPS people asked when they could come back to work, and what they could do to help their devastated island.

Then, UPSers did what they do best…rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Determined to do whatever it took to get the job done. They worked with humanitarian relief agencies, coordinating flights to get food, water, and critically important gas-powered generators onto the island. They worked with The UPS Foundation to help distribute badly needed supplies. They even delivered a generator to every UPSer.

“That meant something, because even with all the money in the world, in Puerto Rico you couldn’t buy a generator at that time” says Ilka. “That had a huge impact on not only UPS employees, but on their families. Now maybe a family of four has in the same home 10 people because that person has a generator.”

Months after the storm, parts of the island are still without electricity. There is much work to be done. And the UPSers in Puerto Rico are continuing to do their part to restore normalcy.

“It’s going to be better every single day, but it’s going to take a while” says Jose.

Juan adds “A lot of people ask me how we are doing? We’re alive and kicking…there’s no other way.”