As we settled back into our work routine, we began achieving some level of normalcy. Having just gone through Hurricane Irma, most of us still didn’t have power but were extremely thankful that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I remember as we were finishing up one of our requirements gathering meetings for work, our project manager hopped online to check the local weather forecast to see if there was any hurricane activity in the Caribbean. To our dismay, we saw that tropical storm “Maria” was brewing and had a trajectory heading straight for Puerto Rico. Although many analysts anticipated that the storm would fizzle out before making landfall, I along with many other coworkers were cautious about jumping to that conclusion. We had seen how quickly Irma had strengthened in the warm Caribbean waters and we weren’t going to accept that default assumption as a result. In the afternoon, we finished our work for the day and headed home at 5:30 pm.
The weekend before the storm was like any other. People were out on the streets having a great time and enjoying one of the last weekends of summer. The governor had issued a hurricane watch and recommended that people start gathering supplies for the storm just in case it intensified further. Maria was now listed as a category 1 hurricane and was expected to intensify slightly. Melanie (my girlfriend) and I went to the supermarket and picked up a few food items and water. The supermarkets were starting to fill up as people began prepping for the storm. We also went to a gas station to fill up our tank because we remembered that before Irma hit, most gas stations had run out of gas and we didn’t want to get stuck without any. Sunday night, Melanie and I watched a movie on Netflix called “First they killed my Father”. It was the story of a Cambodian family that lived under the dictatorship of Pol Pot from the late 1970’s to the 1980’s. It was a very compelling movie and it made me think about how lucky we were to live in a free society. After the movie, I decided to check how much flights off the island cost. The price of flights had skyrocketed within the last few days and many flights were sold out. Melanie and I decided against leaving because we wanted to be Puerto Rico to help our families if they needed help after the storm. I ironed my clothes for the week and headed to bed.
As the days progressed our fears were realized. Maria had slowed significantly (9 miles per hour) and had rapidly intensified in the warm waters of the Caribbean. It was now a category 5 hurricane barreling straight for Puerto Rico. In the news, reporters were referring to “Maria” as the storm of the century and we were expecting the worst. At midday, we were released from work and Melanie and I headed straight for the supermarket to stock up on more supplies. The supermarket near our home was quickly running out of food/water and the amount of people and activity within the store was impressive. People were hurriedly rushing to different aisles trying to grab whatever was left. We luckily were able to secure some non-perishables, water and other essentials before heading home to prepare our apartment. At the apartment, we filled bags with water and put them in the freezer to create blocks of ice, we taped the windows so that if they were to shatter they would break into larger pieces, we moved all our furniture away from the windows and placed towels in areas that we thought had a high likelihood of flooding.
We also filled up multiple buckets with water so that we could flush our toilets and shower before our water was shut off. Once the apartment was all prepped, we each made calls to our families to catch up and update them on the latest news. Melanie’s parents were making preparations of their own and expressed concern for us because our apartment was on such a high floor (14th floor). Melanie assured them that we would be alright and said her goodbyes. My parents were also extremely worried and anxious about not being able to help. They informed me that the airport had been cancelling flights off the island after 7 pm because the winds were expected to be too unsafe for take-off. I calmed their nerves and told them everything would be fine. I finished my conversation and we headed to bed early to get some sleep.
The day of the storm
I was suddenly awoken by Melanie shaking me. The winds had started to intensify and Melanie was getting anxious. We made our way to the living room and began looking out the windows. The storm was hurling rain in every direction, the winds were thrashing our windows and made the palm trees near our apartment look like rag dolls. It was difficult to see buildings about a quarter of a mile away because there was so much rain coming down. After about 20 minutes of looking at the storm, the winds had intensified substantially and we didn’t feel safe being near the windows in the living room. We quickly retreated to the hallway and closed the doors to both bedrooms and living room behind us. I remember thinking to myself “the storm is already this intense and the eye isn’t even close to San Juan yet”. The eye of the hurricane is where the most intense winds are and the it was going to pass closest to San Juan around 9- 9:30 am. I started to become anxious. At least we still had service so I could calm myself down by checking Facebook and reading a book on my kindle.
At this point the storm was in full force. We felt massive gusts of wind rushing under the doors of each room. Melanie was freaking out and was listening to the local weather lady to calm her nerves. Here in Puerto Rico, “Ada Monzón” is the go-to expert on all things related to hurricanes. She closely followed Irma as it passed through the Caribbean and now she was helping a nation remain calm through one of the worst natural disasters in its history. I could hear Ada’s voice calmly saying “If you live in a tall building, you will feel your building start to move as the winds intensify. This is OK. Do not be alarmed. Your building is safe and will not collapse”. The building was moving significantly at this point. Each gust of wind would sway the building in every which direction and it felt as though I was on roller-coaster. As the swaying progressed, I began feeling dizzy and had to focus on a singular point to keep from feeling nauseous.
The eye was its closest to San Juan. The noise and intensity of the winds was something I’ve never before experienced in my life. Melanie and I were afraid that the winds had shattered our windows and were hurling items in our apartment around as dangerous projectiles. We had moved to into the guest bathroom because we were anticipating that glass shards would be making their way under the doors at any moment and could cause serious bodily damage. As we were taking shelter in the guest bathroom, the skylight above us became loose and began bashing back and forth above our heads. Melanie was crying and I was trying to comfort her as best I could. When the thrashing of the skylight intensified, we decided to move back into the hallway and place blankets near the bottom of the doors to ensure the no glass shards could fly under them. The only bright spot at the time was that I knew that the eye was closest to San Juan and I held hope that it would be all downhill from there.
The winds had slowed somewhat so Melanie and I went out to the living room to see how bad the damage was. As we left the hallway we were extremely surprised to see that neither the sliding glass door nor the windows had sustained any damage. I made my way over to the kitchen to grab a quick bite to eat. In our rush to get into the hallway, we hadn’t eaten breakfast and we were both starving. We looked out of the sliding glass door to view the storm and were shocked to see people on their balcony trying to fix things! Were these people crazy?! The winds began picking back up and we didn’t feel safe near the windows. We rushed back into the hallway and closed the door behind us. Melanie laid on the floor with her pillows and blankets and I sat in my beach chair and began reading my kindle.
The intense winds of the storm had passed. There was now just a significant amount of rain. We decided to check both our bedrooms to see if there was any flooding or damage. To our surprise, neither of the bedrooms had sustained any damage. There were small accumulations of water near the windows but overall nothing serious. We discussed how we had been so lucky that our apartment had not sustained any damage. We concluded that it must have been because we were the middle apartment in the building. The winds had been coming from the east and west sides of the building and because we were the middle apartment, we were largely spared from the brunt of the hurricane’s catastrophic winds. We laid on our bed in the master bedroom and passed out.
I woke up after being asleep for almost 5 hours. I was physically and mentally exhausted from the whole ordeal and needed the rest. I walked across the dark apartment with a lantern and poured myself a glass of water. After drinking my glass of water, I opened the sliding glass door and looked upon the street below. There were people driving their cars around (which was absolutely crazy to me) and I saw people walking around below using flashlights. We were informed by one of our coworkers to not leave the apartment after the storm. There were thieves that were out taking advantage of the situation. From what I heard the next day, many people had been mugged and had their homes broken into. I laid back on the couch and thought about how crazy the day had been. I read about 10 pages of my kindle book and then went back to bed to go to sleep for the rest of the night.
The next day, Melanie and I both didn’t have service and were without power or water. Before the storm, analysts were anticipating that most of the island would be without power for months and water for weeks. We decided to walk around to see how bad the damage was. As we walked down our street, we saw down power lines and trees everywhere. On one of the main roads near our house, there were cars trying to get around a large tree in the middle of the road. The supermarket near our place had a line around the block with people waiting to buy food and other supplies. They were only letting a few people in at a time because they were worried that people would try to steal items from the store. As we made our way down to Avenida Ashford, the destruction was truly shocking. Some buildings had many of their windows blown out and there were traffic lights and glass strewn across the road. Walking down Ashford you could see a bunch of trees and power-lines down.
We made our way over to a friend’s place and were happy to see that they were alright. They had not sustained much damage to their apartment but they had experienced a significant amount flooding throughout the storm. During the storm, they were able to fill up buckets with flood water and dump it into their sink. We were all just thankful we had made it out of the storm OK. The following day we were able to drive to Vega Baja and see Melanie’s family. They were all doing well and were in high spirits. Vega Baja was in much worse shape than San Juan and we were told that some parts of the island, especially in the center of the island, had experienced extreme flooding and many families had lost everything. It will take some time for Puerto Rico to recover but the people of Puerto Rico are extremely resilient and I’m confident that we’ll get through this disastrous event and come back stronger than ever. Thanks to all of you who reached out and showed your concern. I’m thankful to have awesome family and friends who care about my well-being.
This hurricane season has been extremely devastating for the people of the Caribbean. Many people’s homes and livelihoods have been destroyed at the hands of Irma and Maria. Please find it in your heart to donate and support the people of the Caribbean. Below I’ve provided the information of Americares a charity organization that’s currently helping with the relief efforts. Your generosity and support is greatly appreciated and will get us closer to recovery from these devastating storms. I’ve provided the link to the organization below: