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story.lead_photo.caption Randy Edwards, owner of Fayetteville Martial Arts

FAYETTEVILLE -- Randy Edwards returned home to Fayetteville after weeks in Puerto Rico this fall amazed by the resilience of the people there.

"They're happy people. They're counting their blessings," Edwards said. "They're not complaining about what they don't have. When they are getting something, they're just overwhelmed."

He saw firsthand the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria during a pair of two-week trips to Puerto Rico this fall. The trips were tied to his involvement with Men in Black Disaster Response Solutions, a business that responds to hurricane-stricken areas in the United States to help restore some normalcy.

In particular, Men in Black contracts with Fresenius Kidney Care to maintain and stabilize its operations so the company can continue serving dialysis patients at its clinics, according to Troy Burleson, Men in Black president and founder.

"It's very important these doctors and nurses get to work," Edwards said. "So we come in with food, fuel, water, whatever it will take to keep these people working."

Men in Black also helps with patients' needs, he said. The group's contractors are paid for their work.

Edwards, 51, owns Fayetteville Martial Arts. He spent a total of nine weeks away from home this summer and fall responding to hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

It's nothing new for him. He said he's worked nearly every hurricane that's hit the United States since Katrina in 2005. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is the worst he's seen, he said.

More than three months have passed since Maria's direct hit on Puerto Rico, and about half the island still lacks power. An already weak infrastructure was heavily damaged in the storm. Countless homes were destroyed. And while it's still unclear how many died because of Maria, some estimate the death toll at more than 1,000.

Edwards spent his first two weeks in Puerto Rico, shortly after Maria hit, with Fresenius executives visiting various stores to secure and arrange food and water deliveries to 28 dialysis clinics on the island.

During his second two weeks, starting in mid-November, he was primarily responsible for picking up Men in Black workers from the airport and taking them where they needed to be, Edwards said.

Burleson, who lives in Boone County, started Men in Black after Hurricane Katrina. Most of the workers are law enforcement officers from Arkansas. More than 200 of them, almost all from Arkansas, responded to Puerto Rico's disaster, he said.

"Maria hit a bunch of nice folks who had been struggling for many years already," he said. "It took people's houses, their livelihoods, their ability to have transportation and communication.

"What touches us most of all is, these people can lose everything they've got and they're still like, everything's going to be OK. We probably didn't hear any complaining. Here, it would have been much different."

Metro on 12/26/2017

Print Headline: Aid worker praises Puerto Ricans' resolve

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