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Photograph copyrighted by Rosanne Olson.

 

September 10, 2001 was a perfect day. The sky was turquoise. The air, a soft touch on the skin as we disembarked from the ferry that took me and my photography crew from Puerto Rico to the nearby island of Culebra where I took this photo. We were on a mission to create images that showcased the beauty of Puerto Rico.

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We had just spent days scouting everything from rain forests to mountains to islands. We drove through little towns, up winding roads, into the rain forest, to the edge of cliffs overlooking vast valleys. In San Juan, we scouted streets built hundreds of years ago, streets that drew tourists from cruise ships to a country rich in history.
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 Little did we know what would happen the next day, September 11. When it did, I was photographing a little boy on the streets of Old San Juan. He was wearing white shorts and a white shirt, playing with a soccer ball. The sky was clear. The art director was on her phone to her husband who was telling here about the twin towers in New York City.

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Suddenly, everything changed. We were no longer creating a world of idealized images but we were involved in a real-life world of trying to call our families, worried about what was going on at home. Cell service was disrupted. Planes were canceled. There was an eerie quiet in the air. We were isolated in paradise with no way to get home.

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In took four days of worry and waiting on hold on the phone to the airlines. Finally, unable to reach anyone, we packed up all 13 cases of equipment and went to the airport to wait. Seven hours later we were on the first plane to Miami. Six hours after that we were on the first plane to Seattle. The tourism department of Puerto Rico used the above image to create a full page ad in the New York Times to send its support to the people of the United States. It was such a tender and heart-breaking time, when we all felt so vulnerable. A show of support meant so much. In fact, it seemed as if the whole world responded with compassion.

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Now Puerto Rico is in trouble. So is Mexico. And so are many of the Caribbean Islands. But Puerto Rico’s situation is especially dire with no water and no power for the foreseeable future. Unlike us, their situation is not solvable by catching an airplane home to safety. Many hospitals are closed and those that are open are running out of fuel for their generators. There is danger of a health crisis in the hot weather with standing water, fallen trees and destroyed homes.

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The wonderful thing about traveling to other countries is that when we make connections to the people and the land in those places, we can better visualize what is happening. And it can compel us to offer our help, no matter how small. If you want to help, please find the charity of your choice for Puerto Rico, for Mexico, for St. Martin . . .

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