By: Jenn Rivera
Months ago, my family planned a reunion for September in Puerto Rico. Due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t going to be able to attend, but my schedule cleared at the last minute. It had been awhile since I had seen my extended family, so even though my kids and husband couldn’t go due to work and school, I hopped on a plane with my brothers and mom and met my aunt, uncles, cousins, and their families in Puerto Rico.
When we landed on September 18th, our goal was to check on our elderly grandparents, to make sure everything was back in order after Hurricane Irma and to get all their supplies restocked for Hurricane Maria. We and the locals expected Maria to pass and be back to our normally scheduled lives and vacations fairly quickly.
We were wrong.
Hurricane Maria hit the island head on. We immediately lost our power in the rental house we were staying at, and with it went our running water. We fought as a family to keep our place from flooding and the wind from breaking down our doors. We listened in horror as the wind battered our house and broke the skylights. We thought that getting through the storm safely, was the accomplishment but when the skies finally cleared and the wind finally stopped, we opened our doors to a whole new Puerto Rico. The once lush and tropical island had been stripped bare of trees and leaves, houses were destroyed, and the power was out.
I couldn’t even get through to my husband or children on my phone because the cell towers had been knocked out. Luckily, one of the cousins had a little reception if you stood in the right place in the house so we all made our “we’re okay” calls on his phone and heard the terrible news:
There was not one area of the island that wasn’t affected.
We were trapped with nowhere better to go in a house with no power, no running water, a door that no longer locked thanks to the storm, and 11 terrified people. We were quickly running through the meager “hurricane” provisions we had bought prior to the storm. They consisted of some chips, crackers, granola bars and other snack foods.
We called our airlines to find out how this would affect our return flights and were told that we wouldn’t be leaving the island until October 3rd.
October 3rd? With no money, no water, no power, without my babies? That was not happening. I think that was the moment I truly started panicking.
We made it through the next fews days on the grace of God and the kindness of strangers. Just when we started running out of food and water, the restaurant under us came back to find that had damage that would prevent them from opening for a very, very long time, so they gave us a couple cases of water and some bread and other non-refrigerated perishables and left. Just as we were running out of money, we discovered one working atm and were able to get the money necessary to purchase from the cash only businesses that had been able to open up thanks to generators. When it was time for our rental to be over, the person who’s place it was told us we could stay as long as needed rent free, he just wanted to make sure we had a safe place to stay.
We had enough gas left in our cars to visit my grandparents, make sure they were as okay as anyone without power or running water could be. We were able to repair a couple of the more minor damages to their home and due to our finding cash, were able to purchase them supplies since they refused to return to the states with us. When we returned to our house that night, we knew that the last time we’d be able to drive our rental car was to return it and that might be pressing our luck, because we were so low on gas and there was none on the island.
We decided it was time to head to the airport and see what would happen, we’d already missed our initial return flight date and things didn’t sound like they’d be getting any better.
When we got to the airport we said goodbye to our cousins, aunts, and uncle, and we all headed our separate ways since they were flying out on a different airline than us; all of us wishing the others luck, but knowing that in all likelihood none of us would make it out that day.
We were right, we didn’t make it out of the airport and home for another 4 days. We were hot, tired, dirty, and thirsty, but when we boarded that air-conditioned flight out of San Juan, I don’t ever remember feeling so grateful. I was feeling cool air for the first time in over a week and I was on my way home to see my babies.
Our family was lucky to get out and to have faired so well compared to others on the island. My heart goes out to those still in Puerto Rico, those with homes destroyed, my family that lives there, and the people who were with us in the airport who didn’t make it out when we did.