We always felt ready for hurricanes. We had survived Hugo and Georges and felt we were prepared. We had  friends visiting from New York who felt they would be safe at TJ Ranch. Our roofs were tied; we had water wells and generators…..what could go wrong? Then came Maria.
NWS Radar View of Hurricane Maria
National Weather Service

The Storm

Maria started at night and lasted all day. Rain was blowing into the house and I was scared the windows were going to blow in. We peaked out and saw metal roofs flying around and we had a lake in the driveway.

When the wind stopped

When the storm was over, we were in shock. TJ Ranch looked like a war zone. Our tool room’s wall was blown out and tools were all over the place. The guest room roof was gone and the room was flooding. Our tree house fell over; the water well was torn apart; the pool fencing collapsed and the restaurant and kitchen had large holes in their roof.  Of the three casitas, one had its roof blown off and walls shifted off its foundation. We found sheets of the galvanized roofing on the other side of the farm…and the barn was just a skeleton.
yellow after
restaurant after

Getting Out

getting out catalina

We didn’t even try to leave the house for 3 days; our entrance was blocked and we had no idea what it was like in the outside world. It was then when two friends showed up hiking 6 hours through thigh high mud. We greeted them teary eyed with a million questions and then we worked our way out to check on our neighbors.

What's there to eat?

We couldn’t run generators 24 hours so it was a constant pressure to make sure our food didn’t spoil. Tony was chef extraordinaire making meals for our guests and meals for the family. We had conch, lobster, octopus, pork, steak and frozen foods in the freezers and salad stuff, mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressings in the refrigerators. We ate well…very well…but it was very stressful. Finally, the business freezer broke and we were running with food to the house and crossing our fingers.

Some people were not so lucky. With no electricity for the water pump in the neighborhood or refrigeration in their houses, people were needy for supplies. Our daughter would bring home medical supplies from the animal shelter where she worked that needed refrigeration.

Image of MRE Food

Helicopters

After ten days food and water were delivered to our area by helicopter and distributed to each family by truck. We heard helicopters daily…the electric company with poles hanging, the police and general checking the area, I guess

helicopter landed

Due to our food situation we were using our generator more than we should have and although we had drums of diesel, we soon would find out about shortages and the need for cash.

Cash

I always wondered what was meant by getting cash before a storm. Communications were down, banks were closed, ATMs didn’t work, traffic lights were pout. Hardware stores were out of materials and grocery stores had empty shelves. You couldn’t buy anything without cash. No one took checks. It was CASH ONLY for quite awhile.

Communications

We were lucky that our DISH TV and Hughesnet internet were working because we could stay informed and inform others. Since cell towers were down, many people hadn’t communicated with family so our house became an internet cafe for the neighborhood. If you could see smoke, then the generator was on and neighbors were welcome.

trying to rig a new generator from an old one
ryobi generator
2 generators for tv/internet and refrigerator

Our friends’ 4 day stay turned into two weeks, but three days after  they left, the smoke no longer rose.  Our generator had died so we lit candles and used solar lights.

internet cafe

We still had a little gas generator which could run the refrigerator but we had no water.(photo) Living in the country it’s easy to bathe outside with a watering can. I wouldn’t want to do it for long, but it was actually fun at first. I didn’t have to get to a job; I didn’t have little kids to get to school or entertain and I don’t need nice clothes for anything….so being a frontier woman was somewhat invigorating for awhile. My heart went out to those who lived in “urbanizations”, air-conditioned houses set side by side…….trying to stay cool, bathe, prepare food while dealing with family and listening to generators all the time.

It would be 7 months before our community had electricity; we went solar and had electricity in 6 months. We could finally turn our generator off.

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outside water cans
elecrtric trucks

One year later

In August 2018 I wrote:

It’s been almost a year since life changed in Puerto Rico. It’s easy to look back, but more difficult to look forward.
I think we  chose wisely to concentrate fixing things at our house and leaving the business for later. We’re relieved to be off the grid. The pool is better than ever, having replaced the 25 year old motor for one that is variable speed. The lattice and fencing is up and the deck has been repaired and repainted. The water well is housed in a new room and the barn is roomy, sturdy and ready for future projects.

And that’s where my thoughts hit a stand still.The restaurant and casitas are still untouched.

The yellow casita makes my heart sink. Flowers and vines invading the openings where screens once were reminding me that “doing nothing” is giving permission to the jungle to take back its land, so soon  we’ll start working on our “business in the back”. For what purpose? I don’t know yet, but we can’t leave it and do nothing.

December 2019

Maria was 2 1/2 years ago and most people I know see it as a marker. Life was one way Before Maria and then After Maria. It wasn’t so much the storm itself but the aftermath. No electricity and carrying buckets of water for months can really wear people down, especially older people. Listening to a generator and making sure it had gas or diesel was extremely stressful. It rained hard the other night. I used to love the sound of pouring rain but I must admit…it’s not the same….or I’m not the same. I think we all have a bit of PTSD which comes out when we least expect it.

Puerto Rico is strong….and even with all the political turmoil in the past years, the people on the island have become stronger and more unified. “No hay mal que bien no venga.” which kind of means “every cloud has a silver lining.”  The fruit is growing back better, communities are working together and although the future is uncertain in many ways, I know we will survive…better yet  we will thrive.

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