Interview with Puerto Rican woman who went through Hurricane Maria:

“It was like ‘Alien vs. Predator’—right here, right in your backyard!”

January 15, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


Revolution had an opportunity recently to speak with a young Puerto Rican woman in her mid-20s who went through Hurricane Maria in September. Ana was born in New York City but had been to Puerto Rico many times as a youth to visit her grandparents and other relatives. She finally moved there in 2015. She was single, got an apartment, and a job working at a “5-star hotel” in a town on the beach, about a half-hour drive from San Juan, the capital.

On September 6 a string of small northern Caribbean islands, and then Puerto Rico, were hammered by Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic. In fact, only three Category 5 hurricanes had ever hit the U.S. At least three people died, and power was cut to 900,000 of the island’s 3.4 million people. Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico two weeks later. The hotel where Ana worked had been shut down and evacuated before Irma hit. It opened up 4-5 days later and began to take guests, but within days Maria came and again everyone was evacuated. The following is from our conversation with Ana.

As Hurricane Maria approached:

“We took all the measures we had to take. My apartment was on the water so I had to evacuate. So once we got word Maria was gonna hit, I went to stay with my grandparents, who live in the same town but away from the water. I thought we were gonna get like ‘crazy’ rain, like Hurricane Harvey, cause we were Category 5, Harvey was Category 4.”

What was the storm itself like?

“My grandmother’s area didn’t get hit the worst. We lived in a very touristy town; the houses there are mostly concrete. I was lucky that we didn’t have to be up to deal with it so… I’m gonna be honest—I was sleeping. It woke me up around 3 am. I kid you not, it was like ‘Alien vs. Predator,’ right here, right in your backyard! We had the shutters closed over the windows, all over the house. It sounded like they wanted to come IN to the house. And then the thunder started. I was scared to wake up; you know, to wake up fully and to go and see. Well, first of all you have all the shutters covering the windows, so you can’t see out. But, I was just nervous. I thought the shutters were gonna come in, the whole windows were gonna come in, so I forced myself to go back to sleep. I prayed a lot. I’m not gonna lie—I prayed so much. I just kept trying to sleep as long as possible. Because I knew I was gonna wake up to this whole thing.”

“I finally woke up and went outside...”

“My car, and my grandfather’s car, were full of weeds. My car was full-up green. Inside! And all over the street and driveways was ‘zinc’ [the tin panels blown off house roofs]. My uncle’s car parked across the street was fucked up because it got hit by the zinc. When I went outside it was still raining but not that crazy, you could just see the water rising, rising, and I started to freak out a little bit because I saw what happened in Texas with Hurricane Harvey, I didn’t know if it would keep going, because now we have no power. You can’t use your phone. You don’t know what’s happening.

“It was just a hard time. Even though we had a portable [camping] stove—my grandfather’s a fisherman in Puerto Rico—and we had running water the whole time; but there’s no power. At night we had a gas lantern. But when they run out of gas, there’s no place to get more. And you know, the supermarkets, the lines. You had to wait like three hours. You go and there’s no bread. No water. No little canned sausages. So that was a big pain in the ass!”

“I got in my car...”

“The minute I got beyond the town, it was so bad. The palm trees, the most beautiful thing about Puerto Rico, were all split in half. The light poles were in half. We’re talking about concrete, cement light poles. All the power lines were down, and in the water, very dangerous. And they didn’t just have power people out there working on them. I could not get into my apartment for three days, because the water came up, the ocean came up.

“I went as far as San Juan. I’d made a flight out to Nashville to visit my girlfriend a month before the hurricane. I heard a lot about the airports being crowded, with hundreds and hundreds of people trying to get out. I had to go to see if my flight was still going out on the 29th, because I couldn’t call. On the way there, you could see lines and lines of people at the gas stations. I’m talking about hundreds of people in cars, some people on foot with gas cans, on to the highway, backed up. The thing is, you wait in those lines, but you don’t know if the gas truck is coming. You’re just there thinking, hoping, like, OK, I’m here four hours, five hours, 10 hours. And then you go back another day.

“It was heartbreaking at the airport. I’ve never seen so much luggage in my life. It was like the number of people you see in Times Square, that’s how many people were at the airport. It’s just crazy. Babies crying, elderly people sitting on the floor, waiting. Because that’s what you do, you just wait to get a flight out. Mind you, there’s only like five flights out a day, at most, because there are the military coming in, deliveries of food.

“The airline confirmed my flight so I was excited, thinking I was getting out. Little did I know the government set a curfew on the country, and you had to be home by 10 pm. They see you on the street, they give you a ticket. My flight was scheduled to leave at 2 am. So I was unable to get my flight; I was stuck like the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans that were still stuck.”

Making Contact with Family on the Mainland

“Seven days later, on the 27th—there were these condos that they half built, but then they stopped building them. You see that a lot in Puerto Rico, the businesses, they have ideas of building condos, and then the money gets cut. You get up there, and you’re hanging out the windows trying to find a satellite to connect your phone. I was out there for about 25 minutes, and I wanted to scream. Because all I wanted to do was call my mom and tell her my grandparents were okay. But I couldn’t get a signal. But somehow my aunt got contact with someone who knew someone who knew my grandparents, so they found out we were OK.

“My grandparents were ‘immigrants’ because they believed in the American dream at that time. You move, and the U.S., it’s a lot different than Puerto Rico. It’s very different. Even though we’re a commonwealth, we don’t feel common. We don’t feel the same. We don’t feel respected. It’s very Americanized in Puerto Rico, with all the American businesses. The small mom and pop places, you don’t see that any more. If I take you to Puerto Rico I’m going to take you to where the culture is at, but I’m not going to take you to San Juan.

“The problem is, the media, you have some people say, ‘Oh, it’s rebuilding, it’s good.’ But then, have you been inside the areas where there’s nothing? I’ve seen San Juan, open for business. Tourism is coming in. We have all of the hotels in San Juan are open. But what happens to someone with a house in the middle of the mountains, and still can’t get out, because the roads are blocked?

“I did not cry, though I’m an emotional person. I don’t know if I was in shock. If I didn’t want to believe what just happened? My whole life just got, you know, transformed. But I didn’t cry until I woke up on October 6. I packed my stuff, got on the plane, I got off at JFK, I saw my best friend—I never broke down so much. Oh my god, I just left home. [Ana begins to cry] I’ve left everything. I had to leave my friends. I was just in denial. I was so, so sad. The whole cab ride, I was crying, crying, crying.”



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