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Chain saw in hand, Alaskan hitchhikes around Puerto Rico, helping the island recover

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published November 14, 2017

Danny Bordwell talks about his hurricane relief work in Puerto Rico with a Univision reporter. (Univision)

A Palmer man unsure of his next move after suffering a work-related injury six years ago has found a new calling: helping people in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

This summer, Danny Bordwell co-founded a nonprofit with a friend that was broadly aimed at helping communities in need around the world.

Then Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, leaving much of the island without power, running water and other services.

Bordwell suddenly had a project to work on.

The fledgling group, PLUR Global, wants to get boots on the ground in hard-hit areas, said Jennifer LaCasse, co-founder and a University of Alaska Anchorage graduate living in California.

PLUR stands for peace, love, unity and respect, she said. The group plans to focus on helping Puerto Rico for the next year, she said.

"We are not only not getting paid, our personal funds are going to this," said LaCasse, who hopes to get to Puerto Rico soon to help. The group and its volunteers are trying to raise money for food, supplies and travel, she said.

Bordwell flew to the Caribbean island in early October, toting hundreds of pounds of supplies he had rounded up from Spenard Builders Supply, Batteries Plus Bulbs and other companies in Alaska. Donations included flashlights, batteries and tools.

Danny Bordwell has been hitchhiking around Puerto Rico helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. (Photo provided by Danny Bordwell)

Hitchhiking across the island, with a chain saw on his back for clearing trees from rural roads, he attracted attention.

Univision, the Spanish language TV network, featured Bordwell's effort to make a difference in Utuado, a mountain town heavily affected by Hurricane Maria.

With his homemade hitchhiking sign – in Spanish proclaiming "volunteer" and "I go to Utuado" – Bordwell said in the clip that he's seen "true hunger" for the first time in his life.

The profile was part of a Univision effort to generate awareness about the impact of the hurricane that struck the U.S. territory with 155-mph winds.

On Monday, reached by cellphone in the capital of San Juan, Bordwell said he's staying in a small apartment without power, a problem in large areas of the city since the hurricane, he said.

But it's better than being in Alaska without electricity, such as at remote cabins.

"It's warm, for one thing," he said. "You never worry about freezing to death, no matter what."

Bordwell was waiting for a ride to take him partway to a town about 60 miles away, he said. Another response group had asked if he could check on a leaky roof at a senior citizen's home, where tarps overhead were failing.

"I'm going to bring some tarps, assess it, see if I can come up with a materials list and a game plan," he said.

He'll hitchhike the last 10 miles, he said. He didn't know where he was going to sleep, but had camping gear. By Tuesday, he hoped to be in another town, helping at a farm.

"We're just trying to get people's lives running again," he said.

Bordwell often works with other volunteers in "work brigades" that clear roads slammed by massive mudslides and "snarled trees," he said. They use picks, chain saws and shovels. One especially satisfying project was clearing a road so a community farm could get supplies in and crops out.

"There's half a dozen roads cut off by mudslide, and we just need it cleared out so a 4×4 can make it there. Right now people are hiking supplies in and out," he said.

This road outside Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, was washed away by Hurricane Maria. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Bordwell, who installed cellular towers for many years, said he suffered a traumatic brain injury at a job site six years ago. That left him unable to work in recent years, he said.

The hurricane has helped him focus, said his mother, Noni Bordwell, who raised her children in Alaska but now lives in New Mexico.

"These last few years have been a struggle for him," she said. "I think it's awesome that he's doing this."

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