We moved from Arkansas to Puerto Rico almost 2 1/2 years ago, for my husbands job, and it’s been a roller coaster of experiences ever since. Exploring all the gorgeous places on this island really does make it feel like you’re on vacation every weekend. We’ve been everywhere and met so many amazing people- both Puerto Ricans we will forever call close friends and American expats just like us, bonding together in a shared love of our new home along with a deep homesickness that no one talks about but we all feel…
Puerto Rico has as many hardship as it does beauty and liveliness; things that make it sometimes very hard to live here. The language barrier (or it’s probably better described as a cultural barrier bc most people here do speak English) is more of an issue than I ever imagined. There’s just a huge difference between Americans & Puerto Ricans, that’s no better or worse, but something I’m constantly aware of. Then there’s the government corruption, crazy high prices and infrastructure (or lack of) – all things I took for granted in the states and that my type-A, impatient personality doesn’t deal with well. I can’t tell you how much happier I became when we moved to a condo in the city with a generator and a Walgreens within walking distance!
However, the one thing that I’ve heard about but never experienced in Puerto Rico is a really bad storm- not even a tropical storm- and certainly not a hurricane. And being from Arkansas, I’ve never been in a hurricane period. I’ve of course watched their horrible destruction when big enough to make national news, but watching and ‘being in’ are totally different. Kind of like tornados- in which I’ve seen the aftermath of in person, known people who have died in them, they’ve even destroyed my hometown- but I still don’t truly know what it feels like to live through a tornado or lose my home to one. So saying I was a fish out of water when Hurricane Irma appeared on our radar is an understatement. Besides, how do you have a “plan” when you live on an island and there’s literally nowhere to go?
Okay, enough on the background- let’s get to the details….
Labor Day Weekend was like most other weekends in September- sunshine and 100% humidity. We were aware there was a storm brewing in the distance but didn’t think it would be a big deal. Monday I went to the park with a neighbor and her two kids and we chatted with other (Puerto Rican) moms about the chance of it becoming a major hurricane. No one seemed worried at all and most people I knew were staying on the island. I think it was only a category 2 then, or maybe even a tropical storm. There wasn’t a lot of news about it so we just assumed all would be fine. (However we did go to Sam’s to stock up on food & water, just in case. It was a mad-house and looked like people were preparing for the worst, so I did start to get a little uneasy Monday night…)
Tuesday morning was the turning point as I received dozen of calls and texts from friends and family in the states. Apparently Irma had grown massive overnight and was headed straight for us- although it looked fine outside and I walked to the ocean with the dogs several times throughout the day just staring into the distance, wondering what was going to happen…
Broc started texting around 11 that we should pack our stuff and drive down to Palmas Del Mar, about an hour south of San Juan & where we just moved from. Most of our ‘gringo‘ friends live there with generators & big houses they were boarding up. Plus it looked like the storm would mostly hit the northern coast (where we live- in Condado) so I was totally on-board with that plan.
However, by the time he got home from work that plan had changed. I think he was weighing the pros & cons of being slightly safer but super far from the airport and hospital and figured if the storm really hit, the entire island would feel it. I also felt safe in our 6th floor concrete condo with a full generator, cistern, basement, stairwell and a great group of neighbors who were keeping us in-the-know. Our only real concern was our windows; they weren’t hurricane proof which is absolutely INSANE to me considering this is a fairly new building and literally a stone’s-throw from the beach- but that’s Puerto Rico for you!
We just kept watching the news and praying really hard… It was nerve-racking and not fun at all.
We were told that tape would help keep the windows from shattering but when Broc left to go find some early Wednesday morning it was all sold out. Lesson learned!
All he could find was this packing tape and while he did the best job he could, neither of us felt very safe. We also started moving furniture away from the windows and into the back bedrooms & placing absorbent mats around them just in case they exploded. It was a very frantic morning, but the weather was still typical- a little windy but certainly not like a category 5 hurricane was anywhere near us…. Yet.
We walked down to the park at the end of our street around 2 pm and I’m glad I had my phone to capture it because it certainly doesn’t look like this now… You can hear the wind picking up and people boarding up their windows but other than that things felt pretty normal.
And here’s a video you can hear us talking to our neighbor about what to do; are we safe, should we go to Palmas, will we be okay? (TELL US WE’LL BE OKAY!!!)
We were glued to The Weather Channel and getting more and more afraid as the day went on. Broc’s boss lives (part-time, he was in the states during all this) in a condo not far from us that had hurricane shutters so we made the last minute call to grab the dogs, a few bags of clothes and necessities and drive to his place to wait out the storm. I think this particular radar image was what really had us in panic mode.
It was obvious that things were going to be bad and by the time we arrived at Playa Grande, the wind was really getting scary…
After frantically getting the dogs and all our stuff up to the 16th floor, we didn’t know if we felt better or worse. The winds were terrifying- we could only see the ocean from the hallway so we kept going out to see what was happening and just praying it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Even listening to the howling now gives me anxiety… I never want to be in this moment again!
Around 4 pm the condo lost power, which made the experience 10x’s more miserable. It was pitch black and sweltering inside but the hallway had become so loud you had to plug your ears to endure it. The back of his condo was facing the city and somewhat protected from the winds, but you could still hear the creepy sounds through the thick glass and it was better to have something to look at than staring into the darkness and letting your mind run wild…
At this point though- thanks to a co-worker who was sending me radar updates every hour or so- we knew it wasn’t going to be a direct hit. The storm was clearly going north of San Juan…
We felt a sort of numb relief- and just wanted to get back to our condo. This may not have been the smartest decision but around 9 pm we just couldn’t take the ominous sounds, darkness and heat of the condo any longer. The wind and rain had calmed down considerably and we knew from our neighbors that our generator was still going strong so we loaded up the dogs and made the 2 minute drive back to Ocean One, the camera rolling the whole time…
We were so exhausted, it only took us a few minutes to fall into a dreamless sleep, feeling grateful we were okay but still worried about the storm surge and other parts of the island…
The next morning we woke up early and walked out to survey our neighborhood. There were lots of trees down and the park next to our condo (seen in the video above) had been torn to pieces. It obviously could’ve been so much worse- but still a hard thing to process.
I was pretty emotional all day on Thursday- a mixture of relief that we were okay but also a bit of shock that we almost weren’t… This beach-side park was our favorite place to take the dogs- and where I practiced yoga 2 times a week. I can’t count the number of times we’ve had picnics here or just sat and watched the waves roll in or the sunset in the distance. I think this was the first time I cried.
(Some various Instagram photos of us at the park over the past several months)
It’s been a few days since the storm and while we still don’t have power, it’s hard to complain because we know how lucky we were… We watched Irma barrel towards Florida all weekend, praying it would change course last minute like it did with us. What’s sad is that because it made landfall over Cuba, it was less powerful by the time it hit Florida and thus less catastrophic. One place spared in exchange for another destroyed… It almost feels selfish to be thankful when you know so many are suffering, but I guess that’s life in general. All we can do is look back on experiences like this with a new set of eyes- seeing things with more compassion than we did before, and never forgetting to count our blessings while blessing others the best way we can.
Please continue to pray for the Caribbean & make a small financial donation to the Hurricane Irma Relief Fund.
Thank you all for your love, concern and prayers for our little family & island we call home.
Megan, Broc, Hilde & Sunny
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7