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Detroit's formerly homeless to make solar panels for Puerto Rico

Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Weather News

"We'd love to send as many as we can make," said Fowler. "We've got the recipe, if you will, to put them together, and we've got somebody with relatives in Puerto Rico who can take the first few down. We're working on transport for a larger number with other donations that are headed down. We're putting connections together. It's a little complicated because communications are down."

It's the lack of the ability to communicate with loved ones that has Bonnie Melendez especially worried about her father-in-law, Benigno Melendez, who lives in Puerto Rico and has an open wound on his leg.

"We have had some limited communications, but it's very spotty, like we can hear every third word when we do get through," said Bonnie Melendez, noting that her father-in-law lives in a town called Caguas, in the central mountain region south of San Juan.

They worry about the risk of infection in the wound on his leg, especially since there's no access to clean tap water, limited medical supplies and food.

Her husband, she said, "is desperately trying to get his father out of Caguas. ... He would like to go in and bring his dad out, but there are no rental cars to rent. There's no gas to put in them.

"The infrastructure has been smashed to smithereens."

They bought a plane ticket for Benigno Melendez to fly to Detroit on Wednesday, but it might not be easy to get him out of Puerto Rico.

"The questions are: Can we tell him in time, and then can he get to the airport?" she said.

The scenario is daunting, and it has led many to get creative about communicating with loved ones in the hurricane-ravaged areas.

"My father is such a clever man," said Rose Figueroa, 29, of Ann Arbor, who grew up in San Juan and whose entire family lives in Puerto Rico. "The other day, he called me through the Direct TV modem. He got some diesel for the generator, enough to call me through the modem -- apparently the modem has a phone number and he called me through the phone.

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