The evening had a familiar feel to the three personnel assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris mission in Puerto Rico, having arrived at their hotel for dinner and to go over the day’s numbers on Dec. 22.
“Then I heard a faint call for help,” said Richard Cusimano, who spends his days here as a quality assurance inspector in at the Canovanas, Fajardo, Loiza, Rio Grande and Luquillo debris collection sites. “Then the calls got more assertive.”
Cusimano – along with Ben Delatte, the zone manager for more than 30 debris sites in 10 municipalities, and Anthony Frost, a quality assurance inspector at the sites Cusimano now manages.
“I run into the corridor, and there’s blood everywhere,” Cusimano said.
What they came across an elderly man who had fallen off his bike, and while bracing for the fall had punctured his arm on the clutch mechanism on the bike. He had crawled almost 100 feet from where he fell.
“He was saying he couldn’t use his phone to call for help, because he was using his free hand to apply pressure,” Cusimano said. “We used my Corps shirt as a tourniquet, and we were able to slow down the bleeding enough to get him to the hospital.
“That’s one less shirt I have to turn in,” Cusimano said a few days later, while recanting the story from the Camarones collection site. “It was a collective effort – couldn’t have done it without Ben and Anthony there to help.”
Three days later, at a Christmas party being thrown by the hotel employees for the people staying there and nearby residents, Cusimano was surprised to see a familiar face.
“I found out his name was Carlos,” Cusimano said. “He said, ‘Oh I remember you – thank you so much, and sorry about your shirt.’
“I told him, ‘I’m glad you brought Carlos back, not the shirt.’”
Cusimano and Delatte are both with the New Orleans District and serve together with the Louisiana National Guard’s 205th Engineer Battalion. Frost, with the Rock Island District, had completed the final day of his deployment and successfully transitioned Cusimano to take the lead on the work he had done in support of the debris mission in Puerto Rico.
As of Dec. 30, more than 1.7 million cubic yards of debris have been collected from around the island in the wake of hurricane Maria. Of the estimated 6.2 million cubic yards of debris on the island, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked to remove 3.9 million cubic yards, with more than 40,000 cubic yards collected daily at more than 70 sites in Puerto Rico.