Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico

Today is Thursday, September 21st at 7:15 PM and we’re once again locked inside our master bedroom, this time to avoid both the salty heat pouring through our broken front windows and the wrath of the city of San Juan, which now has a mandatory 6 pm curfew. Nothing feels real anymore and despite the island-wide power outage, the lack of cell service, internet and television is what’s really keeping us in the dark. Somehow the latter is more miserable, even though the nightmare outside our door is as real as anything I’ve ever read or seen on the news. Maybe having a screen between me and the images of such mass destruction makes it easier to process, or maybe I’m still in shock. Either way, I find it difficult to think about what we just went through and will continue to survive over the next several days, months or even years…

I first have to say that Broc has been more than amazing in so many ways- I have no idea what I would be like without him here. He kept us safe, maybe even saved our lives, and was not only so calm and so strong during the storm, he’s been going non-stop ever since it passed. He’s cleaned up massive amounts of debris, traveled across the island to try and locate friends & helped our neighbors carry and secure tattered boards and shutters to the gaping holes where windows once tempted us with a glittering ocean views… Our generator has also been such a blessing for almost a month now and our only source of power and water since Irma teased us with what was to come. It’s crazy to say we were the lucky ones, but for now, at least I have a computer to type this on.

Hurricane Irma really was the start, skirting across northern Puerto Rico on Sept 7th and leaving an already weak island even weaker. While she only knocked down a few trees and flooded a few streets, most of the island was still without power when Maria was announced. Many said that our near miss with Irma was a much needed wake-up call for Puerto Ricans- causing them to be more prepared after seeing the wide-spread destruction she left across the Caribbean and Florida- which ultimately saved hundreds of lives. Or so I’ve heard. With no real news except for the occasional text or tidbit of gossip from neighbors I have no way to know how many people survived Maria. I just know we did.

On Monday, September 18th, I was working from home, or trying to, as The Weather Channel gave round-the-clock updates on the small blip of tropical storm Maria they were calling “concerning”. I felt a pit of dread in my stomach. I didn’t think we could be so lucky to have it pass us again… Within 14 hours Maria had grown into a full-size category 1 hurricane, gaining speed and strength with every passing minute. By Tuesday morning, I knew we were in trouble.

Broc made a trip to the grocery store and was shocked to see all the shelves virtually empty of water, flashlights, batteries and canned foods. We went through the whole process of tapping up our windows, stockpiling water in every container we could find, talking to friends and family and basically praying non-stop. Our debate was, once again, should we stay or should we go– whereas “go” meant to a friends house in Palmas Del Mar, an hour south of San Juan, or to a friends’ condo in Ocean Park that had hurricane shutters but only a partial generator. I swear it was like groundhog day from 2 weeks before. (I know it may sound petty, but a full-service generator is HUGE when the island loses power, and ours seemed pretty steady.)

The president of our condo association called a meeting at 2:30 in the lobby to review safety preparations and get a head-count of who was staying:  floor 3, 4, 5 (us) and 8 were a yes; floor 6 & 7 were leaving to stay with family in Guaynabo. We felt there was some safety in numbers and if something happened to one floor we could run up or down to another. We love our neighbors and feel like a small family here at Ocean One, and most of them had been in Puerto Rico during hurricane Hugo so we felt they knew what they were talking about. (except the ones who insisted we open a few windows to help with ventilation… I’d already researched that rumor and repeated that this was NOT a good idea. Some listened; others, I’m not so sure.)

The plan was to use as little electricity as possible, conserve water and to prepare our master closet as a bunker for shelter once the storm hit. I could tell that everyone was way more concerned about Maria than Irma, but no one was as scared as me… I kept trying to tell myself that worrying wouldn’t help anything, but the reality was that this one was big and it was headed straight for us. Nothing would help us now. The waiting game was on.

Broc, as usual, tried to keep the mood as light as possible as Tuesday night grew darker and more ominous. By 8 pm the winds had picked up so much we could barely walk and I was honestly worried Sunny would blow away like Broc’s hat. Hilde hates storms as much as I do and refused to venture more than a half a block down our street to pee, which was smart because the downpour hit as soon as we got inside and didn’t let up for more than 24 hours…

Everything we watched and read confirmed the path of Maria was not going to wobble and would hit Puerto Rico around 6 am as a category 5 hurricane. The mix of rain and wind was already so strong that water was pouring through our windows in every room. We lost tv and internet around 11 but I had downloaded a walkie-talkie app called Zello and stayed glued to the channel that continued to provide updates throughout the night. None of the updates were good.

We first tried sleeping in our master but the wind was coming from whatever direction it faced so we eventually moved to a back bedroom that seemed a little less noisy. Of course neither of us could sleep at all, regardless of where we were, and after hearing a loud crash that we later learned was a mirror falling off the wall we ran to the closet to hide at around 2 am. All I could do was sob as I watch the clothes in the closet sway back and forth with the building and pray that God would not let it crumble. The sounds were absolutely terrifying- glass breaking, huge objects crashing into the side of the concrete, car alarms and sirens blaring but were barely discernible through the thrashing storm. It was, without a doubt, the scariest moment of my life.

Though our phones were not working 90% of the time, we did manage to receive a few WhatsApp messages from our neighbors and learned that both the 4th and 8th floor living room windows had been completely blown out of their walls around 4 am. After that, everything was a a blur. We heard our own windows crash not long after that and Broc jumped up to throw our king size mattress against the closest door as we were sure our bedroom door was about to be ripped off its hinges. That constant banging that went on for at least 2-3 hours is something I still can’t get out of my head.  I think i dozed in and out until finally there was this eerie silence… I remember Broc opening the closet door and it was daylight- maybe 6 or so in the morning- and I slowly tiptoed out behind him afraid to even look. We had survived the worst of the storm and were peaking through window shades at the eye of Maria. It was still raining and windy, but comparatively calm but I couldn’t stop shaking; you could literally feel the wind blowing in from under the bedroom door so I knew the front of our condo was exposed. We went back to our hole and collapsed in exhaustion, knowing that Puerto Rico was going to feel Maria’s wrath long after she left.

Here’s some pretty bad footage and an even worse edit-job of what our 12 hours of hell felt like; and some of the damage that it did to our home.

More to come…