September 20, 2017
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Nothing that we went through during Irma prepared us for what Hurricane Maria did to us and the beautiful island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. We had followed the hurricane experts’ predictions about Maria’s path and we were hoping that she would pass south of us. No such luck.
Here’s the play by play of the dark and stormy night that Maria found us.
The electricity has now been officially turned off for the island. We have already charged our devices and phones. We also have made final phone calls and texts to friends and family. John has again put up the steel shutters for the house, as well as tied down everything that was loose and needed to be secured.
The winds have started to pick up just a bit. We know that sometime tonight the full force of Maria will be upon us, but we’re not exactly sure when that will happen. Because we have the steel shutters over the windows and no electricity, it’s hard to tell if it’s night or day from inside.
I’m up for a rousing game of Scrabble, Monopoly, strip poker, ANYTHING to pass the time before Maria finds us. John is too anxious, about making sure we are secure, to mess with games. He keeps coming up with things to do that I’d never even considered. He’s usually calm and collected, ready for any challenge, but I can tell that this one has him super worried. I guess it could be due to the projected 165 mph winds that are about to hit us head-on.
Knowing something big is going to happen and not knowing when or how it’s going to happen is tough, a lot like childbirth. We have an idea that when the strong winds hit, they’re going to be here for several hours. The waiting is painful.
The winds are getting really strong now, a lot like what we experienced just ten days ago with Irma.
Up to this point we’d left the front door open so that we could see what was going on through the screen and have some light and airflow through the house which is now more like a shipping container. Because of the strength of the winds John has just closed the front door. We are now in our “box” and hunkered down.
John just told me to get an emergency “to go” bag packed in case we have to be rescued. Now I’m really scared. I grab my laptop, phones, tablets, Surface Pro, cords, etc. and stuff them into my electronics carry-on bag.
I just took half of an Advil PM. I’m thinking that maybe I can just go to sleep and when I wake up it will all be over. Fat chance! I’m trying to doze off as I keep one foot touching the wall of the bedroom. My thinking is that I will feel the vibration of the cinder block wall just in case it starts to blow away.
John comes in and wakes me. It sounds like we are laying parallel between two train tracks and a supertrain is passing over us at top speed. But there is never a caboose, it keeps going and going and going. The sound keeps up to the point of being excruciating. Like fingernails on a chalkboard…on steroids.
I didn’t think the sound could get any more deafening, but it has. All of the steel shutters are rumbling and shaking. My fright level has bumped up from scared to terrified. The awful sound is deafening and is not letting up.
The storm is barfing water through the bottom of the windows and it’s pouring down the walls. We get black trash bags and duct tape them to the inside of the windows to try to keep the water out. We put everything that needs to stay dry up as high as we can stack them on the couch, on chairs, on shelves…
Our fright level has intensified from terrified to horrific. John says that he’s afraid the windows on the back wall of the house might give way, which could cause the wall to cave in. We go to the bathroom which is at the center of our downstairs apartment. It’s the only room in the whole house (upstairs and downstairs) that has no windows. I am sitting in the shower and John is sitting on the floor with his back against the door.
The deafening roar keeps up. I think every ounce of adrenyline has been tapped from us because we both fall into a semi-sleep stupor sitting up.
John wakes me and shouts, “This can’t go on much longer. If we are going to die, let’s at least do it in bed.”
So we go into a thoroughly drenched bedroom, throw a blanket on the wet bed, and snuggle. We both finally fall asleep.
I wake up to all the walls and ceiling of our bedroom intact. The winds seem to have died down a bit. We are not greeted by Munchkins or the Wicked Witch of the West, so I figure we’re still on Vieques rather than in Oz.
John is the first one to open the front door. He looks out and says, “Oh honey, you don’t need to see this…”
I think, like heck, I’m not. I wade through ankle-deep water and make my way to the door.
The wind is still gusting but I see some of our neighbors on the street. We find our flip flops floating by the door and make our way out.
Nothing that I’ve experienced in my lifetime compares to what we see as we walk out the door. It is total, absolute devastation. It looks like a bomb has been dropped on our street. The power pole across from our house is snapped in two and is laying across the road as power and phone lines flap in the wind. Half of the front wrought-iron gate has been ripped from the brick wall and is laying in the yard across the street. Most of the trees in our yard are either uprooted or snapped like toothpicks and there are no leaves on the few that are still standing.
Our street is completely impassable. Downed power poles, trees, parts of roofs and debris are strewn on the road in both directions so that neither a car or even a walker can get through.
I can’t help myself and I start to cry. In fact, I blubber like a baby.
Better than any words from me, John’s photos do a much better job of depicting the total demolishment.
Maria has completely wiped out the beautiful island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.
We find out a week after Maria that the winds on our street were a sustaining 215 mph. The gusts were clocked at 265 mph. We are grateful to be alive and to be able to write about it.