Monday, October 23, 2017

Hurricane María & An Unconventional Rebuild

It was raining nonstop, the skies were dark and they would be for the next 48 hours. Everything was eerily quiet except for the sounds of the soon-to-be-strong winds, and the pouring rain. For the past week, we'd been thoroughly warned to get everything prepared and to stay safe. Secretly, we were all hoping, praying it would be like Irma and miraculously turn upwards and not cause too much of a disaster. We didn't know what exactly to expect, all we knew was that the strongest hurricane to ever develop on the Atlantic ocean was coming straight towards us and, that, along with the locally-famous and most trusted meteorologist in the island, Ada Monzón, saying: "Puerto Rico will not be the same after the next 48 hours" was more than enough to terrify everyone. 
I was calm, too calm. Maybe it was because it still hadn't sinked in. Maybe it was because I'd never experienced anything like it so I didn't know what to expect. Who knows.
I was on twitter, (because when am I not, honestly), scrolling through my ever-growing mentions, overwhelmed and smiling at the amount of love that my mutuals and followers had been showing me through two very simple yet important words: "Stay safe". I knew I was, there was no doubt in my mind about that, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't absolutely terrified. It was still early in the day and the storm wouldn't hit until nighttime. I sought comfort in the fact that I'm a deep sleeper and kept telling myself that I'd be able to sleep through it, just like I did with literally any other thing, (even earthquakes). 

To my surprise though, that wasn't the case. 

I went to bed at around 10pm, and kept watching the rain through my window, waiting for the lit road to turn dark signaling that the power was officially out and that it was starting. At this point, the wind had turned stronger and was causing the raindrops to hit the windows directly; the sound it made was unnerving. I was anxious, restless, trying not to toss and turn in bed so I didn't wake up my mom who was sleeping beside me. And then it happened, the light the lamp post in the street provided through the window turned off, and so did the fan in the room. Inwardly, I hoped that would help me sleep and apparently it did because next time I opened my eyes, I saw my mom standing on the dresser, fixing the window screen that was making noises because it was being swayed back and forth by the winds. It was already broken and the window wasn't hermetically closed because it just doesn't, so we knew that would happen. I fell asleep again, and when I woke up, it wasn't dark anymore, it was 6am. Surprisingly enough, we still had phone service, so I sent out my last few tweets, angry at María because she wasn't letting me sleep. I went to sleep again, and woke up at around 11am, as bright as it could be with a hurricane going on outside; this time there was no phone service. My mom sent me to the terrace to get a gallon of water to flush the toilet because, as expected, the water had also gone out. When I opened the back door to the terrace, I found that I had to use a lot more strength to open it than I usually would and it would push me back. The winds were that strong.
The next day, it was still raining but the roughest part was over.
The third day, was when the reconstruction of the island started. Police cars, four-tracks driven by people wanting to see what had happened and all kinds of construction and clean-up machinery could be seen and heard going down the street, on their way to clean the roads full of fallen tree branches and mud from the mountains. 
I hadn't known what exactly had been the outcome, but I assumed it couldn't be good. 
During the week, when it was announced on the radio which roads had been cleaned, we went to visit my grandparents who lived downtown. 

I couldn't believe my eyes... or, more like I didn't want to. This couldn't be happening. Not my island. Not my beautiful Borikén. I wanted to cry so badly.

What had once been an ocean of green, now resembled a desert. Throughout the whole 25-minute car ride, all I saw was disasters. People who lost their roofs, taking what remained from all their belongings out and taking the water out of their homes with buckets. It was a heartbreaking sight and my heart was aching. Aching for all those people who'd worked so hard throughout their lives to acquire what they had with their hard-earned money, only to have it all taken away in the span of 24 hours. Aching for the ones who didn't make it because they'd thought they were safe, but the mountains they lived beside had come crumbling down upon them or the nearby sea had come swarming in. Aching for all those animals who had their habitats in our beautiful sceneries, and now probably weren't alive. Aching for an island that was now destroyed and that had to start all over again. 

The process hasn't been easy, but I believe that everything happens for a reason and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Contrary to what one may think, good can come out of a tragedy. I've seen it myself. In the midst of it all, there's been and there are so many people who've come together to help rebuild this island, artists and celebrities from all over the world showing their solidarity and even locals who maybe have lost things, but they're putting all that aside and joining forces to help the ones who've lost it all, to give them hope and let them know that even though material things may be lost, we have each other, and that we're stronger together. It's been extremely heartwarming to see that, in the end, kindness, unity and humanity have prevailed; it's reassurance that we'll be okay, and that we'll come out stronger. Because as bad as this may have been, as painful as it is to see our surroundings barely recognizable and to ask ourselves "What now?", it's shown that there can't be light without darkness, and that light shines brightest when it's darkest.