Maria – immediate aftermath

The rush wore off. Time to take stock on the day after.

Already at 7am the neighbors started creeping out of their houses. I with my phone – which for the next week was nothing more than my camera – others with work gloves and saws.

My neighbor Gilberto was springing into action dragging the large branches to one side of the road to make room for vehículos to pass. Others joined in the clean up effort. With my clinging daughter I wasn’t able to jump in and help as much as I’d liked. I’m strong. Why should us women just stand aside? Sigh. I brought out my coffee I had made before we lost power Tuesday and my neighbor Ron and Sonia heated it on their never-before-used Coleman stove. My contribution was appreciated. It was still rainy.

It was a strange kind of block party. I’ve heard that our dead end street is unique because all of us get along and socialize with each other. Questions of, “are you ok?” and “how’s your house?” floated around until everyone could answer.

Above photo shows our back yard. This was morning one of day one. More adrenaline. More action. Before 11am we had cut our fallen tree, moved the broken trampoline, climbed on the roof, and ventured to the destroyed walking path.

The path was surreal. I could see houses I never knew were back there because the trees were stripped. This was perhaps the most emotional aspect to behold simply because it was an obvious enormous destruction. And so sad that our tiny nature area was destroyed.

It was still raining as the last tentacle of Maria passed overhead.

Trees down everywhere! Random satellite dishes around the ground.

Thankfully no apparent structural damage aside from ripped awnings and signs.

Above photo is before and after.

Our community pool that had been drained for maintenance was now full.

When we picked up enough to feel somewhat accomplished our thoughts turned to “how bad was this?” “What’s the rest of Mayaguez look like…San Juan?” In other words, “how big of shit are we in?” With no way to contact the outside world the best option was for all of us to stay home and wait. Pray. And hope that my family in the states assumed the best not the worst.

To keep a breeze in the house during the stifling daytime heat, everyone either stayed outside or kept their front doors open. Leaves blew in but I didn’t have the gumption to sweep them up for days. Friday’s highlight was our friends Silvina and Carlos stopping by. They recounted to us their trek down from Rincon. So many trees were down, no power anywhere and electrical posts fallen. A river in Añasco flooded the highway.

Silvina had a brilliant idea! We swap phone numbers of loved ones abroad and whoever got to a phone first would call on behalf of the other. Nice!

At night we gathered the neighbors to watch our tv news. Some horrible videos were shown of San Juan damage.

The sun finally shown Saturday.

It’s super surreal to be completely devoid of informational sources other than oral account. This inevitably leads to spotty and contradictory details. Grasping for some scope of what was happening outside our gated community, whenever someone drove their car home we all swarmed them for tidbits of news.

Not even active military personnel had cell reception on their phones. The woman across the street works for the electrical company. Apparently they had an emergency meeting to analyze and plan. The regional director literally started the meeting by simply putting his face in his hands. The three hospitals in Mayaguez would receive power first then the policía central command center which is three blocks from our neighborhood. We should get power when they do. In one week. No less.

Other news was that the lines at gasoline stations were 30 cars long – hours of wait for only a ration of $10 of gas. One gas station on Post Rd was reserving gas for only doctors, military and police.

Familiar with a tiny gas station in the hills on our steep route to school, we ventured in the car to top off our tank. Leaving our little haven for the unknown of the crazy wild mess of the hurricane made me anxious but it was good to finally see things first hand. If the first part of our usual school route looks like this there’s no way we could make it all the way to school. Nothing like squeezing under tilting power lines! And alas, no gas at the station.

roof blown off

A doctor neighbor told us that Parea Hospital had two shooting victims in the ER. One was shot in a fight at a gas station and one was shot while arguing with a neighbor about which of them owned a piece of roof that blew of!!

We also heard that people were stealing the copper from the downed cables lines. Great.

We also ventured to our grocery store Pueblo. We heard rumors that you had to wait in line to enter. Maybe we’d get money out of the bank too!

We did wait briefly outside the store and when we entered all the perishable food was cordoned off. No fruit no meat no ice cream or cheese! That’s why we went- we Wisconsinites ran outta cheese!

The employees were systematically inspecting the food. I assume all the meat got tossed right away.

A dry law began the day of the hurricane. I have no idea when it’ll lift.

And the bank line was at least 60 people long outside and around the corner. Not going to wait in that. It was a cash only society for the moment.

Over the next six days post-hurricane I went into five different neighbors houses. We wandered over to each other’s houses unannounced. We played games. We did yoga. Neighborhood kids all played outside together like I did in the 80s. It was amazing and uniting. AND SO HOT OUT!

Most of us had off work. There was no school. No electronics. Looong days. Hanging out together was a lovely way to give moral support to each other, pass the time and share information of the craziness outside our walls.

Gilberto wins the Hero prize for our block.

He got his staticky land line to work and let EVERYONE use it to call loved ones. We received many busy signals at first because of overwhelming traffic on the lines (and after remembering how to use a landline. Have to press 1 for long distance). I prayed so hard to God to let it work. Finally I got thru to mom. She was so happy to hear my voice. She was going to help us leave this rock ASAP. Those details to come…

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3 Responses to Maria – immediate aftermath

  1. Barbara Schutt says:

    I’m loving these posts of updates after the hurricane, please continue. Many are leaving for an indefinite period of time. The US Govt has really dropped the ball on this disaster. My heart hurts for PR!

  2. Annie O says:

    Thanks for posting Laura! Fascinating. I was relieved to see you made it back to the States… we were all thinking of you and rooting for you during those few days with no phones… Looking forward to more posts, I can’t begin to imagine how the reality of this was for you, but the blog helps me get a tiny glance at least!

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