Remembering hurricane María

As most of you may know, María was a category 5  hurricane that passed through Puerto Rico on September 20th, 2017. It entered the island through the town of Yabucoa at dawn and it left through Quebradillas/ Isabela on the late afternoon.

I spent the hurricane in my house with my mom. My dad is a doctor in medicine, and he didn’t spend the hurricane with us because he had to stay at the hospital. My mom was anxious since days before so I knew during the hurricane, I had to portray confidence, peace and serenity even though I was uncertain of what could happen.

Hurricane María for me started at 3am. The winds were so strong and powerful they woke me up. My mom was very anxious she couldn’t be still, and she kept looking at me with worried eyes. I prepared distractions for the passing of the storm so I lent them to my mom so she would stay calm.

As the hours kept passing, the winds, and the rain just kept getting stronger. I live in Humacao, the city next to Yabucoa, where the hurricane entered through so you can imagine the intensity of the disaster that we felt. It was still dawn and I realised that one of the shutters in the windows of my mom’s room was gone. The wind pulled it out completely. It was no longer a safe room, so we went to my room.

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[View of my neighbours’ roof and the neighbourhood Candelero Abajo in Humacao, PR.. Photo by Viviana S. Flores Rivera.]

The shutters in the windows of my room were barely holding because the wind was worse on that side of the house. My room started to get flooded with water and we were scared the shutters would be torn out too so we decided to pass the remanent hours of the hurricane in the laundry room, the safest room of the house that has no windows.

We grabbed our emergency backpacks, some snacks, blankets and pillows, and we pinky-promised we wouldn’t leave the room until 11am, which was the hour when the storm was supposed to start leaving my town. We listened to the radio the whole time and we witnessed when the meteorologist Deborah Martorell said the hurricane was approaching San Juan and, maybe,  just thirty minutes later we stopped listening to the radio station; it stopped working.

I remember being astonished, shocked, and scared. I remember feeling calm, I knew I was safe in my house. However, there were moments when I felt very uncertain asking myself if we were truly safe because the noises, the solar panels on our roof banging, the house vibrating and pressurising, the shutters bashing and the flooding of my house were telling me otherwise. I was truly shocked because of how everything felt. My mom proved me in those moments and I had to keep showing confidence.

In the mist of being in the laundry room, I was so tired I fell asleep on top of the washing and drying machine for an hour and later did my mom. We took turns just in case something happened.

Later, I went downstairs and my house was filled with water. I looked through a window (please, do not do this if you are in this scenario)  and I saw that our tool house was gone, the only thing remaining was the patch of cement on the ground. I also looked through the windows of my garage and the wind and rain were so strong I couldn’t see my neighbours’ house that is right in front of my house.

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[War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson A. Denis was one my distractions for the passing of the storm. Photo by Viviana S. Flores Rivera.]

It was 11am and we got out of the laundry room. One of my neighbours knocked at our door, knowing that it was just me and my mom, asking if we were okay. I remember the look on his face, he was panting, desperate, eager to know our status.

After that everyone in the roundabout, got out and started cleaning. We went out and our three huge palm trees from our front lawn had hit our house, breaking some roof tiles and a bit of roof and were blocking our entrance. My neighbours’ helped and pulled them out with ropes attached to a car.

After that day I experienced living without electricity, and without water: two basics necessities for human beings. My astonishment grew when I saw how my community was; I didn’t recognised it. Weeks later, I got out of my neighbourhood and went to another town and when we were driving I got lost, my mind got confused, I didn’t know where I was, neither did my parents. We were in the same road we have taken for years but I was so different we thought were we somewhere else.

I also experienced sadness, fear, and much stress and anxiety. Those last two grew when I started college in the midst of chaos, traveling from Humacao to San Juan every day, being in traffic everyday as much as 4 hours. I barely slept, my body hurt most of the time, and I almost couldn’t care for myself, so I experienced exhaustion, mostly mental. I would cry almost every day.

I look back and I feel proud of myself for not giving up, because that’s all I wanted to do at this time last year. I was smart to look for distractions from my reality, and to look for peace in the little things that helped me to keep going.

Things were very simple, at first, and I liked that, getting up early, going to bed early, doing house chores, volunteering, reading books and newspapers, and talking to people. That was one of the good things. I loved the interaction with other human beings, it felt honest, and true. I was happy, and I stopped missing the Internet after a while.

I lived three weeks in my neighbours’ house because our power plant died, and they were the best three weeks. Yes, were we in the midst of chaos but we had each other, we were a team and everybody contributed something, and at the end our bond grew stronger than ever.

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[One of the beautiful sceneries there were, days after the hurricane. Photo by Viviana S. Flores Rivera.]

This was an experience I’ll never forget. I learned so much and experienced so much If I keep writing I  wouldn’t finish. What is most important is that I was reminded that I am blessed, and privileged, first and foremost, because today I am alive when 4,000+ people died, I still have a house and I got water and electricity back.

 

[Featured image: Beach La punta at Humacao, PR, destroyed, without shore, after the passing of María. Photo by Viviana S. Flores Rivera.]

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