When Hurricane Maria, one of the most catastrophic storms in decades, violently struck Puerto Rico on September 20, Felix Marcos Parrilla, a Tampa-based CBP agriculture specialist, was filled with worry. Parrilla’s parents, who lived southeast of San Juan, were alone. “My mother is 66 and my father is 74 and they have a lot of health problems,” said Parrilla.
At first, Parrilla wasn’t able to reach his parents by phone, and when he did, his mother told him that water was pouring through her living room ceiling like an open faucet. She also told her son that she was running low on her blood pressure medication. “She only had five pills left,” said Parrilla. “She had ordered a refill of her prescription at the pharmacy, but wasn’t able to pick it up before the hurricane.”
Parrilla also found out that his parents were short on other supplies and his father wasn’t feeling well. “He has osteoarthritis in both knees and a spastic colon, so it’s difficult for him to eat. I really started to worry,” said Parrilla.
Then Parrilla heard more bad news. His cousins sent him a message on Facebook that his uncle, his father’s brother, who lived in a town near his parents, had a stomach ailment and had gone to the hospital on the day of the hurricane. The hospital had a power outage, Parrilla’s uncle’s health started failing, and he died suddenly of a heart attack. “He didn’t go to the hospital for his heart. He had a stomach problem. It was very unexpected,” said Parrilla, who thought his parents had heard about his uncle and asked his mother how his father was doing.
But Parrilla’s parents didn’t know that his uncle had died. “I thought they knew because my mother talks with my aunt. So I told them by mistake and my father was very depressed,” said Parrilla.
Parrilla was upset and tried to book a flight to San Juan, but he couldn’t because flights to Puerto Rico were limited. That’s when Parrilla learned that CBP was evacuating employees and their families from Puerto Rico and other hurricane affected areas. “I talked to my supervisor and asked for help. I was emotionally stressed out and worried about my parents,” he said.
Parrilla’s parents were given a green light to evacuate. “Initially, the CBP evacuation team in San Juan was going to my parents’ home to take them to the airport, but the roads to their house were inaccessible,” said Parrilla. “Fortunately, their neighbors were able to travel less known routes to drive them there.”
At the San Juan airport, Parrilla’s parents joined a group of people that CBP was evacuating from the island. CBP’s emergency operations team had chartered a commercial jet to fly the evacuees to Miami, where Parrilla was told to meet his parents.
Parrilla, who was suffering from his own medical problems, a herniated disc in his neck, drove the entire 4-1/2 hours from Tampa to Miami thinking how grateful he is. “It’s a big relief to know that my parents are flying to Florida and that they are going to get the help that they need. I am so thankful,” said Parrilla.
Since reconnecting with his parents, Parrilla was able to get his mother’s blood pressure medicine, schedule an appointment for his father to see a doctor, and have surgery on his neck, from which he is now recovering. He also has had a chance to reflect on his appreciation for all that has transpired. “I am very thankful to the CBP Tampa management staff who was there for me,” said Parrilla. “I also am very proud to be a part of CBP, an organization where in a disaster like this, humanitarian help is there for all of us who are in need.