Ohio National Guard News

Taking Matters into Their Own Hands:
Ohio National Guard Family jumps into action
when Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico

Story by Bill Pierce, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

Damage in Puerto Rico.
Damage in Puerto Rico. Damage in Puerto Rico.
Damage in Puerto Rico. Damage in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria was regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Puerto Rico, and caused catastrophic damage and triggered a major humanitarian crisis in the U.S. territory. The Category 4 hurricane that deciminated the island on Sept. 20, 2017 was the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record and the most intense tropical cyclone worldwide thus far in 2017. (Courtesy photos) | SEE ALL HURRICANE COVERAGE

Retired Ohio Army National Guard Master Sgt. Eddie Berio Jr. (right) and his uncle Louis make repairs to the garage of his grandfather’s home in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Retired Ohio Army National Guard Master Sgt. Eddie Berio Jr. (right) and his uncle Louis make repairs to the garage of his grandfather’s home in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Berio's home.

Downed trees at the Gustavo home after the hurricane.


Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Berio and his uncle, Gustavo, gather metal roofing.

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Berio (right), a logistics and supply noncommissioned officer with the Ohio National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and his uncle, Gustavo, gather metal roofing that Hurricane Maria had strewn across his grandfather’s property.

Outdoor shower made of tarps.

Multiple generations of Berios, many current or former members of the Ohio Army National Guard, traveled to Puerto Rico to assist Gustavo, the patriarch of the family, and other relatives living on the island with recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. After making an unused well operable on Gustavo’s property, they used a water pump, some piping and tarps to erect an outdoor shower until municipal water service was restored.

Retired Ohio Army National Guard Sgt. Maj. Ed Berio works to clear downed trees with a chainsaw at his father’s home.

Retired Ohio Army National Guard Sgt. Maj. Ed Berio works to clear downed trees with a chainsaw at his father’s home.

Gustavo (left) and Amy Berio work to clear damaged trees near his home.

Gustavo (left) and Amy Berio work to clear damaged trees
near his home.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (12/14/17) — Have you ever heard the terms “the Military is Family” or “the Guard is Family?” The Berio family of Central Ohio is the epitome of a Military Family, with more than 88 years of combined service in the Ohio National Guard and a total of more than 100 years in service to their country. So it should be no surprise that when a natural disaster hits close to home, even if that home is over 1,700 miles away, they go into what is known as “military mode” and immediately do whatever they can to help each other.

After Hurricane Maria — a Category 4 hurricane when it hit Puerto Rico — practically decimated the U.S. territory this past September, the Berios went into military mode to help immediate family living in Arecibo, which is about one hour west of San Juan, along the northern coastline of the island.

While the hurricane was pelting the island with rain and wind, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Berio, a logistics and supply noncommissioned officer, was keeping tabs on the storm from his office at the Ohio National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Co-workers would visit him daily, asking if he had heard from his family. “I hadn’t been able to contact my mom since before the storm,” Berio said. “Also, my grandparents live up in the mountains and it was pretty difficult to get to them even before the hurricane went through.”

Matt’s father, retired Sgt. Maj. Ed Berio Sr., and brother, retired Master Sgt. Eddie Berio Jr., left for Puerto Rico about a week after the hurricane made landfall to check on family members living there. They took with them food and supplies and hopped on a commercial flight from Columbus to Arecibo.

Ed said all he could think about was to get there as soon as possible and help his parents. “For me, I just went back into military mode because it was like going on a deployment,” he said. “I took my chemical bag and other bags with me, the same things as if I was being deployed away from home for a couple months.”

When they arrived at the airport, airline employees were going to charge them for their extra baggage, but when one of the employees saw they were retired military and learned the purpose of their travel, she waived the charges.

During a stop in Charlotte, North Carolina to wait for a connecting flight, they got word from Puerto Rico that family members were OK. Ed said it was the first, and best, news they had heard since Hurricane Maria had torn through the tiny island.

Hazardous conditions

The Berios weren’t sure what they would find once they arrived in Puerto Rico. With over three feet of rain blanketing the islands, it was obvious that flooding, mudslides and possibly washed out roads were going to be an issue.

On their way to check on a cousin who lives near the airport, they couldn’t believe what they saw. “It reminded me of a barren winter in Ohio,” Ed said. “None of the trees we saw near her home had leaves left on them. It was like the hurricane had come through and thoroughly stripped the trees.”

Once they made sure their cousin was alright, they proceeded to Ed’s parents’ home. They had a tough time getting around in some areas. Telephone poles either blocked the roads or were leaning over far enough to have the wires scrape the car hood as they passed underneath. Mudslides covered roads completely, and some roads were thoroughly washed away.

Driving up the mountainside to the house, Ed did not know what to expect. As they got closer to the home, the damage became much clearer. “Once I saw that the bigger trees were uprooted, I realized how bad it was,” he said. “As we pulled into the yard, my dad came around the corner with a machete, and a beard.” His father, Gustavo, is 84 years old and neither of the younger Berio men had ever seen him with a beard. When they saw one other they immediately hugged.

Two weeks had passed since Hurricane Maria hit and it had been a week since Ed and Eddie arrived on the island. Back in Ohio, Matt decided it was time for him to go to Puerto Rico and help his family. “At the time, the most I could do was pray every night for them,” he said. “Those two weeks were grueling, not knowing what had happened to them, because my father did not have good cell service when he arrived. It was the worst feeling.”

Cellphone communication was still sporadic at best, but his father was finally able to contact him and let him know what items were needed. So Matt, along with his stepmother — Ohio Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Amy Berio — and an uncle, packed up two generators and a water pump and flew south.

First things first

One of the first items to take care of was getting water in order to be able to drink, bathe and wash clothes. They set up a system to collect rainwater by stationing buckets and a large garbage container around the house so the rainwater would roll off the roof into the containers. They took plastic and made a downspout so it would go into buckets on the ground. “That’s how we had water to clean ourselves until we built a shower using a water pump I brought from the states,” Matt said.

Several days later, after significant trial and error, they were able to make an unused well operable. With Matt’s water pump, some piping and tarps, the Berios were able to erect an outdoor shower.

The list of recovery tasks they were able to accomplish was extensive. Not only did they overcome major obstacles in order to get much needed water from the well, but they also repaired and painted the fence, cleared up the trees that were semi-damaged and repaired the garage roof. Most important, they said they were able to reflect on their military experience and use it to help family.

“The municipal water supply finally came back on the day before we returned to Ohio,” Amy said. “It wasn’t good enough to drink, but at least we could flush without dumping a bucket of water into the toilet each time.”

Having to go into the situation blind, with no communication from any of their family members, the Berios said they thought they would not have been as successful on this personal mission if it weren’t for their combined military experience. “The military definitely prepared us for this,” Ed said. “I don’t know of anywhere else we could have gotten the kind of training we needed to travel to an island that just went through a devastating natural disaster, and help rebuild as much as we did.”

Matt said he was glad to have made the trip to help his aging grandparents. “I hadn’t seen my grandfather in five years,” he said. “If that is the last memory he has of me, then I feel good about going down there and helping them all I could.”

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