On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit my little island Puerto Rico. It was a type 5 hurricane, with winds over 150 mph. It brought devastation to my little island. All vegetation was gone, many trees, antenna towers and light posts were torn down. A lot of people lost their houses either by the force of its winds, or the floods brought forth by the approx 30 inches of water of rain it brought. Towns were isolated with the barricades formed by mudslides, fallen trees and electric posts. And worst of all, the aftermath of the hurricane brought total loss of electricity, water, and communications.
I was blessed that my house is intact. I had my family, including my MIL with me in the house. I had saved a lot of water for bathing and toilets, our cars were full of gasoline, cash in the house, sufficient food and drinking water provisions, had battery lanterns, and an emergency generator. We were set to wait out the crisis. What we were not ready for was being totally disconnected to the outside world because we had to stay at home until roads were cleared and we had no cellphone and internet connections. What saved the moment was a little, cheap, battery AM/FM radio, from where we could hear the news from the sole surviving radio station. Thank god for those brave journalists who gave their time and kept going on during long hours, losing sleep, deprived of their family’s company, and provided us with some light and information on what was going on outside our home.
September 25: It’s now five days after the hurricane. We still have no electricity and no expectation of having any for weeks or even months. We have a small trickle of water in the bathtub and outside faucets, so we can wash clothes by hand, and dry in the air on my new clothesline in the terrace. It’s so hot that we had to open ALL the windows in the house so air can circulate. Before Maria, our windows were routinely closed since we had A/C. Now that there is no more dense forestation, we’re getting a lot more breezes. So it’s hot but breezy. Our afternoons are spent in the terrace, taking turns swinging in the hammock, reading, doing our nails (the women in the house), washing clothes by hand, cooking meals in the BBQ (the sole man in the house), trying not to freak out, chatting with the neighbors, and listening to the radio. Bathing with a washcloth and a small basin of water is a new art that we re-learned from the days after Hurricane Hugo twenty-five years ago. We have a generator station, a charging station for iPhones and tablets, a clothes wash station and a dish washing station. There’s also a corner dedicated to store lanterns and radios for nighttime use. Our life is orderly to prevent chaos and anxiety.
It has been ages since we had such tech-free days, we feel like we’re living in the pioneer days, except we have disposable dinnerware. Lack of cellphone connection has been both a blessing and a condemnation. We’re now chatting with out next-door neighbors, helping each other and giving mutual support. I’m now an expert playing Solitaire. I’ve read five books so far and written three book reviews. I’m feeling like I’ve got this, we can do this.
Tomorrow, most of the industry will start work again. Banks opened today, and the ATM’s will start working again this week. Stores are opening for limited periods, depending on the consumers’ behavior. There have been some riots in the gasoline stations and stores because people are getting desperate. Lack of communications have led people to believe that there is a lack of water, food and gasoline. The government has been derelict in establishing communication so we are getting desperate. The authorities want us to remain in our houses to save gasoline, yet life is beginning to establish its routine of living except with no electricity. We have to establish a new normality. Diesel and gasoline is the new commodity that we need to ensure our comfort.
After five days, I need to know what’s happening in the world. The little AM/FM radio is not enough, I need photos that can only come from the Internet. The country needs diesel for the hospitals and elderly homes, and yet I have the selfish need for diesel to feed the generators in the cell towers so I can have my internet connection. My daughter needs gasoline to get to work. We need gasoline to feed our generator, and to that effect, my husband has to stand in line for hours, just to buy a 5-gallon carboy which will give us six days of service. When this tiny trickle of water dries, we will need to search for water in the oasis established by the powers that be.
Right now we have a routine; first thing in the morning we fill all containers of potable water; empty all toilets; prepare and eat breakfast; wash clothes used the previous day, and hang to dry; read for a while or go get gasoline; prepare and eat dinner, wash dishes afterwards (cookware because dinnerware is all disposable). Life is not easy, but it’s livable. All the obstacles so far have been surmountable. Right now my wish is to have internet, phone connectivity, and potable water. I don’t mind washing clothes by hand and hanging on a clothesline. I can wait weeks for electricity; I don’t mind not having cable TV, I prefer to read my romance books. I want to be able to manage my bank accounts by internet, and to publish my posts. But above all, I want peace and hope for my country, a fighting spirit to fix what is broken, drive to deal with the obstacles we face, and the right leaders to bring us into a brighter future. A year from now, the panorama will be of a lush and vibrant tropical country and we’ll look back on today and smile and share our stories.
September 30: Ten days after Hurricane Maria: our days now start very early. We have to be at the gasoline station around 5 am to get a good chance to get to the pump before they run out of gasoline. If we’re going to the supermarket, we need to be there at 7 am so we’ll have a better chance of getting bottled water for drinking. And the drugstore only accepts clients inside one by one and escorted by an attendant, so that little adventure to get refills and some necessary items took us around three hours. The rest of the day is taken with the water handling because we now don’t have the little trickle of water, so no more clothes washing, it’s now surviving based on big containers of water for all needs. It’s hard, frustrating, sometimes overwhelming. And yet, we must persevere because there are people who lost everything, people who are still isolated in their communities, and for them, we need to get Puerto Rico going.