It’s Monday, September 25th. We have running water. There’s no power and no cell signal. Since the storm hit five days ago, we have seen NO HELP. No FEMA. No red cross. NOTHING. Today we are driving into town for the first time since the storm hit. Since we’ll be near the Mr. Special (grocery store) we invited Pierre to come with us. Lucy also gets to ride along. We are all hopeful we can find a cell signal somewhere in town, and/or that Jason’s office will have connectivity of some kind. When we stopped to knock on Pierre’s door, we noticed a dead bat in the stairwell. The night before I swore a bat flew through our living room, but then I decided it must have been a moth flying near the lantern and just casting a giant shadow. Nope. Really a bat. Hurricane Maria just keeps on giving.
Our Kia Soul did just fine on the makeshift beach road as we drove over downed power lines and under broken power poles. Yeah that seems totally safe, I know. The lines at gas stations were beyond unbelievable. We couldn’t see the end. Debris is everywhere you look - in roads, around houses, in parking lots. All the beautiful trees are either blown over or stripped bare. Shrubs are stripped bare. The sewage pump station in the middle of town is flooded and there is raw sewage bubbling up from a manhole cover in the street. The smell is horrendous. This is our town, post Maria. It seriously feels like one of those horrible apocalypse movies I would never watch. Now I'm living in one.
Jason parked near the entrance to DXC and went to check in. We can immediately see a huge crowd of employees gathered in the parking lot. It’s pretty clear the building is closed. So much for using phones or computers here. Pierre and I hang out with Lucy in the hot car. We have to turn off the engine to conserve gas (there is a gas line up the road we are parked on, and it looks like the most miserable thing ever), but with the windows down we are constantly combatting the bees flying in. The bees are harassing everyone next to us in that gas line, too. Jason returns and tells us there was some slight damage and the generators aren’t running yet. They hope to be up and running tomorrow. Jason is checked in as “okay” and also as “relocating off island”. His company will not be paying for him to leave, but he is encouraged to relocate ASAP so he can return to work (Jason is able to work remotely from anywhere with an internet connection). Jason also learned that Claro, a cell phone provider on the island, has a cell signal next to the Chili’s in Aguadilla. Damn. All of us have AT&T phones. DXC also shared that there is gas in Arecibo. That’s great news because that’s only about 45 minutes away and it means gas is slowly making it’s way from San Juan over to us on the West side of PR. Jason and Pierre run into the Mr. Special and I wait with Lucy in the car, bee towel at the ready. They return and tell me there’s no water or Gatorade on the shelves, but there’s some food. All three of us tried desperately to find a cell signal while driving around town, but no luck.
Line to fill up gas canisters:
Line of cars waiting for gas. It goes all the way up the hill and continues on:
Debris piles everywhere.
Large tree fell into sewage pump station:
New view from the hill down into Villa Pesquera. We had never seen ANY of the homes down there prior to hurricane Maria. They were completely hidden in the trees. Every building you see here was never visible before the storm. A huge Flamboyan tree used to stand here. We loved hunting for iguanas in the branches every time we drove by:
When we arrive back at our condo, we see Faret has secured a small loader and is attempting to move our generator back onto its platform. We are cautiously optimistic. The diesel was tainted with rainwater. But maybe it will run? Maybe today! Or maybe three months from now! The fuel lines were severed in the storm, but we heard that David took his car up the hill and found a hardware store that was open. He returned with replacement lines. The mechanics working on the generator determine that the filter can handle the rainwater mixed in with the diesel. About an hour later, I went out to the stairwell to see what was happening with the generator, and much to my surprise it was back in its spot on the platform and the mechanics were getting ready to hit that glorious big green button to see if it would start. Maria and Yadira were also hanging out of our stairwell watching with crossed fingers. I held my breath as they pressed the button, and the building A generator ROARED TO LIFE! The screams and cheers and clapping erupted from the stairwell as Jason yelled from the living room THE GENERATOR IS ON!!! We plugged in our fan and our refrigerator, turned on the TV and put in a DVD. YESSSSSSSSSS. We still had no idea how much fuel we had in that tank, so we knew this was probably very short lived. Whatever. We got to escape to a somewhat normal hour of existence, and we enjoyed every minute.
With the big news happening off the stairwell, we almost missed the big event taking place off of the balcony. THE ROAD HAS BEEN CLEARED! I should clarify that trucks came through and just shoved the downed poles and trees over to the side. We still have to drive directly over downed lines. There were electric company trucks parked along our road running temporary line through the downed trees. We had all been hoping we’d be restored quicker than other areas since there's a water treatment plant directly behind our condo complex. I found David and he shares that an engineer was present with the electric brigade, and that’s great news for us. He also tells me there’s three days worth of diesel in our generator’s tank, so we’ll run the generator on a staggered schedule to ration the fuel.
Pierre asked us to babysit his 3 kiddos so that he and Yadira could take a walk on the beach to celebrate their 12th anniversary. Lucy behaved and didn’t eat any of them. We played with binoculars and fidget spinners and the kids stole more Fritos. The kids tell us they don’t want us to leave Puerto Rico. UGH I’m sorry to leave, too! When Pierre and Yadira came back it was time for our circle downstairs. Frank grilled burgers for everyone (I had fresh tomato slices and CheezIts). Everyone stayed out until 8:30pm because FINALLY the BREEZE WAS BACK! It was beautiful outside. So many stars! Chris and her kids joined us and she shared that she had decided to leave PR for good. She would go live at the San Juan airport until she could get a flight. Maria had been listening to the radio and shared that out of 80 towns we are one of four with running water. (!) The dam is holding but is not considered safe yet. So we could still lose our water at any time. She also heard that Arecibo has a cell signal, and that American Airlines is charging $1000 per one way ticket out of San Juan. The governor says he cannot do anything about it and that the federal government has to step in to lower airfares.
So far, most of us are planning to leave ASAP. David and Nick already had tickets booked prior to the hurricane. Nick has decided to he can last until his flight, but David wants to leave sooner. Frank and Chris can’t wait to get the hell out of here. Maria and Luis are staying, as are the doctors and Pierre and Yadira. Since we have running water, Luis wants to move his dad and stepmom into his condo as soon as he can get more gas to make the trip to San Juan to pick them up. As for us, we want to leave ASAP, but we are not desperate enough to head for San Juan airport without plane tickets. We are fine waiting for the airport in Aguadilla to open on Friday. We still don’t know if we’ll come back to live here again or not. We have no idea how bad it will be or for how long. Right now we’ll just focus on surviving, one day at a time. And since our generator ran from 9p to 11p, we focused on DVDs and our fan.