In just two weeks, six months will have passed since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Like most traumatic situations, for all of us on Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria wasn’t a singular event. Long after our story was replaced with new headlines and the politicians decided what our individual and collective pain and suffering were worth, we have been forced to continue reliving our nightmare.
Although power has been restored to more than half the island's residents, many of us have gone six months without electricity. Many never had power return after Hurricane Irma two weeks prior. Some still don't have potable water. My husband and I live in the mountains of Utuado (one of the hardest hit and most remote areas of the island).
The logistical challenges for PREPA—the government-owned power utility—to bring lights to us has been compounded by the months long inability for [U.S.] Congress to come to an agreement on how much to earmark for Hurricane Maria relief efforts. Although it’s a fraction of what Puerto Rico Governor Rosselló estimated was needed, to our surprise, The Senate allocated $2 billion to go toward power restoration (which we’ll share with the U.S. Virgin Islands). Between that and the many private companies from the U.S. sending people and fleets of vehicles to help out, for the first time since the hurricane hit, we feel some optimism power will be restored.
Families have been ripped apart, with an estimated 100,000+ residents fleeing to the States. We have all taken in friends and family members whose houses were destroyed but were only given a pittance to rebuild. One 94-year-old received a $1,000 check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after his house was blown away, taking all his possessions with it.
We have endured the indignity of the U.S. President waiting a full two weeks to visit the island, viewing only the capital city of San Juan, and then throwing paper towels at us, while telling us we have a "flair for the dramatic" and that our devastation “threw off his budget.”
Angry at the way the United States government continues to remind us we have been relegated to second-class status, suspended in the netherworld between statehood and independence, Paul and I are compelled to share not only our own story but those of other people who live on the island.
Each Thursday, we'll share a new story written by people who have experienced loss, helplessness, hopelessness, the impossible, anger, sadness, depression, insult, indignity, while at the same time gaining something most of us didn't know we had.
Each essay will take you from the moment the hurricane hit to present day.
We'll start this Thursday with Paul's and my story. At the end of each essay there will be a link to a submission form. If you live in Puerto Rico and you have your own Hurricane Maria you'd like to share with our readers, we invite you and strongly encourage you.
If you like the stories published, please share them with others who might be interested in our collective plight.
Photo credit: Paul Ratliff. Image: Sarah's car (which she sold in January 2018) on the side of the house. It is buried under branches and leaves that fell during Hurricane Maria.