No one was prepared. We grabbed as much canned food and bottled water as we could, but it was only a fraction of what we would ultimately need. I never could have predicted how different our lives would become. I guess I believed that my beautiful island could withstand anything. No one knew what awaited us.
I consider myself lucky, if luck means less unfortunate. I sleep on my roof every night, and I watched the beast from my kitchen window. I did not know, as I heard the shrieking voice of the unmerciful wind blowing hard on our home, that I would be one of the “lucky” ones who would still have a home. I did not know, as I looked on the vengeful rain, the many tales being written in that moment. How many people stood behind doors, pitting their lives against the brutal force of nature, to protect their loving fortress. Or how many had to flee in the midst of chaos and destruction as their homes became history covered in water. Or how safety, for some, was attainable only by risking their lives. There are still things that I am ignorant of even now, and so many stories beyond what I could ever imagine.
Some say Hurricane Maria hit our island as a category 5, others say 4, but to us “lucky” folks it felt like a 10. From our window we watched the persevering pines in our neighbor’s yard give their best fight and fall nevertheless, victims to the harsh blow of nature. If only fallen pines were our biggest worry, I wouldn’t be sitting here with a flashlight three months later writing about the events.
All around me I could hear the whistling wind blowing hard, creeping up on anything it set its mind to destroy. It was a dark day, since the power bade its long farewell in the early morning, leaving my house and my beautiful island in blackness. But even darker days were yet to come.
Sometime in the afternoon, the chaos ceased only to catch its breath. We opened the doors to see a glimpse of the destruction. It was nothing then, just a couple of downed branches and trees. A short time after, the revengeful storm resumed. Now the powerful winds attacked from the left side, never stopping for a break until I woke up the next day, September 21.
I was in a capsule hidden from reality, my only view being fallen pines and toppled front gates. It was only when we got into the car and rode through the streets that I came to the sad realization: the Puerto Rico I knew, my Puerto Rico, was forever changed.
Everything that had once been straight was knocked down. Every telephone pole was down, with its wires tangled up, kissing the roads or strangling whatever house it had fallen upon. Even the biggest trees had been pulled up by the roots and tossed into the streets and onto houses. Hardly any wood houses remained standing, and most were separated from their roofs. Some neighborhoods were now islands in the floodwaters, with no passable road out.
That car ride was the slowest I have ever had, and the view from my window was a hurtful scene. Even still, it wasn’t the torn homes and streets that hurt the most, but what stood behind every single one. The new mission was not only restoring our beautiful island itself, but igniting the flickering hope of every resident who had for years tried to lift it up and was now caught in a deep nostalgic abyss.
These events will mark my island and its inhabitants for years to come, but there is no time for weeping. When a country needs rebuilding, people must step up and assume the job. This is only the very start of a long journey of recovery.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.