Can you remember the scariest day of your life? I can. Mine was Wednesday September 20, 2017 when in the early hours, Hurricane Maria started to unleash its wrath unto Puerto Rico. Here in the island we are used to hurricanes. We have grown up with them and as far as natural disasters go, hurricanes at least give you a chance to prepare yourself. And that we did, or so we thought. We went through the whole drill, filled up our gas tanks, bought batteries, supplies, canned goods, and water. Enough to last for at least two weeks. You name it, we had it. But nothing could have prepared us for this beast. When the heavier winds started hitting our home, it sounded like jets taking off right beside us. If you have seen the movie Twister, that is what it felt like when you looked out the windows. The winds were so forceful that they blew open our front door. My husband and I had to barricade the doors with our sofa and our bodies for three and a half hours to ensure that the first floor of the house would not get destroyed. There was water everywhere. Luckily, we suffered little to no damage considering what some of my fellow Puerto Ricans have gone through.
This hurricane was a game changer. For the first time ever, the whole telecommunications grid failed. People desperately tried to contact loved ones to no avail. This caused massive desperation among the masses. Although communications in some areas have gotten a bit better, it has been a painfully slow process and once you get out of the Metropolitan area, you are pretty much in no man’s land. Radio stations went off the air. Many of them still are. There was a complete lack of information. We had no idea what was going on and the reality of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Then started what I call, my life in post-apocalyptic Puerto Rico. People feared that gas would run out, so lines at the gas station took from 7-11 hours long to fill up your tank. Happy to report that wait times have gotten better in the past few days. Supermarkets had little to no food and supplies. Water and ice were a rare commodity. Both issues sadly persist to this day in many areas outside the Metropolitan area. At the moment cash is king, since most establishments are not taking credit cards as a form of payment. This means long lines at the ATMs to get cash.
Slowly, information about the damage that the Island had suffered began trickling in. Mostly because of the radio and information that family and friends abroad started giving us. The reality set in. Puerto Rico’s infrastructure had been destroyed and it would take months and in some places years to recover. I remember taking a short drive around my neighborhood two days after the hurricane and being in total awe of the destruction. I could not even recognize roads I had taken every day. Trees, electric poles, road signs, you name it and it was down on the ground.
Puerto Ricans are resilient people. The worst situations bring out the best in us. Among the positive things that I experienced during the hurricane was the comradery and solidarity of the Puerto Rican people. Neighbors sharing food and supplies. Children playing on the streets again. Even in these dark times, people managed not to lose their sense of humor. I also appreciate the role that the Puerto Rican diaspora has played in bringing global attention to our situation and providing aid. We thank you. Without you I do not know where we would be.
What has frustrated me about this whole situation is the slow Federal Government’s response to the crisis. FEMA is also dragging its feet. The world needs to understand that people are in desperate need of help here. We need food, water, medicine, supplies. Last week, the military took command of the situation by appointing Lt. Gen. Buchanan who seems to have a better picture of the situation and has started to move things along.
Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back. As if it could not get any worse, President Trump, or as I like to call him Cheeto-in-Chief decided to “grace” us with his presence. What could have been a great opportunity for him to show that he sympathized with Puerto Rico’s plight turned into a ridiculous show of his narcissism. In a nutshell, during his visit he joked how the island had thrown the United States budget out of whack, said we should be thankful that our death toll was not as high as a “real catastrophe” like Katrina, and instead of visiting the most damaged areas, he visited Guaynabo, which fared better than most of Puerto Rico. This narcissistic toddler then proceeded to throw paper towels at a crowd (imagine Oprah in the “you get a car” segment). Right… Because paper towels are what we need the most right now. This poor excuse of a human being has no idea that people are dying and continue to die because of the sluggish response by his government to this crisis. The death toll is “low” mainly due to the fact that many parts of the island are without communication. It is rising because hospitals generators are failing, dialysis patients can’t get their treatments, both leading to more deaths. Also, many people are committing suicide due to the utter feeling of hopelessness that reigns in the island right now.
What concerns me the most about our current situation is that Puerto Rico was already facing a severe economic crisis which led many to leave the island. The current uncertainty about the future of Puerto Rico and how fast it will recover will surely lead to a massive exodus to the mainland. I think this was the tipping point for many who were on the fence with the decision to stay or leave the Island. To be honest, I am struggling with the decision myself. I have a small child who I want the best for. But then I think, if we all leave the island… What will become of my beautiful Puerto Rico? I just hope from the bottom of my heart that just like the phoenix, Puerto Rico will rise from the ashes to come back stronger and better than before.