One year after Hurricane Maria: Tips to help you through a major hurricane

Lifestyle

Everyone was talking about how Hurricane Irma had been the worst hurricane of the Caribbean. We saw it devastate Barbuda and St. Maarten. It devastated Vieques and Culebra. It even hit Florida! We were so busy with Irma, we didn’t pay attention to another storm forming behind it – Hurricane Maria. Little did we know that it was going to be the most powerful hurricane in recorded history, to make landfall in Puerto Rico.

I have learned from that experience and because of it, I’ve come up with this post to help young families to prepare for a hurricane. So read on!

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Major Hurricane Maria

The first winds started on Tuesday night, September 19, 2017. They were singing a syncopated African dance like I’d never heard before. The “whoosh” of the winds brought chills down the spine of everyone who listened to it.

Sleep was nonexistent. I mean, who could sleep knowing this hurricane would be so powerful? It was even worse than Hurricane Hugo! I was 4 years old and I remember it.

Then the real rough winds started and the hurricane threatened to take down the door to the terrace. Fear almost overpowered me, but we all came together to find a way to hold it. My dad barricaded the door and it held. I could see the sliding door bend in an L shape. The ground was shaking, but this was no earthquake. It was the power of the storm shaking the house.

We were lucky enough. The house held through the worse part of it (although it did flood a bit), but people living close by weren’t as lucky. I saw a wooden house get blown away by the hurricane, not far from where we were.

We lost power around midnight and all type of communication around 5:00 AM on Wednesday. Little did we know that it was an island-wide issue. Inside it was pitch black and all you could hear was the sound of things breaking outside and being blown away by the winds.

Then the winds subsided and we knew the hurricane had passed. We turned on the radio, but only two radio stations kept broadcasting: Wapa Radio and Radio Vida (my church’s radio station). With no phone reception, internet or power, people with land lines started using the radio stations to let their family members know they were okay. Some even called in from the mainland US to ask about their loved ones because they couldn’t get a hold of them and were starting to worry.

Things I learned from this experience

sky-after-hurricane-maria
The sun always comes out… eventually.

Hurricane Maria left heartache, devastation and loss… so much loss. But the Puerto Rican people came together to rebuild our little archipelago. I certainly learned a lot from this experience, and I want to share some of my knowledge with you.

Having a checklist of the essentials helps.

You can’t wait until they announce a hurricane is coming to start preparing for it. If you live in an area where hurricanes usually hit, you must be prepared when Hurricane Season begins in June. Make a checklist and stock up beforehand! If you don’t, you’ll be met with long lines and possibly even empty shelves at the grocery store (we did).

Have an evacuation plan in case you need it.

If you stay and your home is blown away, does your home have a safe room where you can take refuge until the hurricane ends? If not, it’s probably best to stay at a friend’s or family member’s house. You can replace material items, but you can’t replace life. Better safe than sorry!

Hurricanes are much cooler when you’re younger.

I remember asking my dad to have a look outside during Hurricane Georges in 1998. Hurricanes used to fascinate me. Now that I’m older and have a little boy to take care of, I was terrified… praying the winds wouldn’t tear off the windows and doors… thinking about what room would be safest to take cover if something like that were to happen.

Nature recovers much faster than humans do.

Today, the trees are greener than they were a year ago. If you hadn’t lived through the hurricane, you probably wouldn’t know a major hurricane hit us just by the looks of it. Yet we remember! How can we forget? Hurricane Maria will forever live in our memories as one of the worst hurricanes ever in recorded history. We’ll never forget the months without power, having to wait hours on end for just $10 of gas, empty shelves at the grocery stores, and no water. We will never forget the thousands of lives that were lost!

PMSD is real!

That’s what I call the PTSD we got from Hurricane Maria, or Post-Maria Stress Disorder. Every time a storm watch is announced, we get anxious just by the thought of another storm hitting us. People run to the stores to stock up on essentials every time the news announce a new storm forming in the Atlantic Ocean. Only this time, they fill up their shopping carts because last time they ran out and couldn’t restock their pantries.

Everyday items you should stock up on

We were lucky enough to only go a month or so without power, but it was the longest month in our lives! At least one good thing came out of this experience. I can now help other families with what I’ve learned. Here are some everyday items I believe you must have more of in the event of a hurricane.

Cash

You don’t know if the ATM Machines will be working after the hurricane, or if the stores will only be able to take cash. After Hurricane Maria, nothing worked and they were only taking cash because they couldn’t even call the bank to see if the checks wouldn’t bounce. So ALWAYS have cash! You never know…

Water

The infrastructure in the island suffered and because of that we had no water at home. It runs on power, and until they could get generators and gas, we had no water. This was one of the first things that sold out in stores everywhere. I suggest you have a water filtration system at home. You save the environment by not wasting bottles, and save money too!


Canned Food

Without power and water, it was nearly impossible to cook a fresh meal. Canned food helped a lot. However, canned goods usually have a lot of sodium to preserve its freshness. This can only be a temporary fix while power and water are reestablished. People with hypertension can’t go long on this diet.

Baby Carrier

How are you going to carry your bags if you also have to carry your little one. The baby carrier is a must, in my opinion, and my favorite is the Baby Tula.


First Aid Kit

You should always have a first aid kit, but this is a MUST for your hurricane prep. You never know what the storm will bring, and having it might save a life.


Additional items that help if they are available

gas-station-hurricane-maria
That’s not traffic… that’s the line to get gas after Hurricane Maria.

Let’s face it! Not everyone can afford to buy an expensive power generator, but if you can, it helps you get through the terrible post-hurricane months. Here are a few items that helped us get through it.

Power Generator & Gas

These two you MUST buy before they even announce a storm coming. The prices are usually inflated because demand is high. We were lucky we only went a little over a month with no power, but a lot of people (like my parents) went months on end without power.


Power Bank

These banks or battery packs power anything with a USB port. Be that your phone or a USB fan, it will definitely make your life better. My phone was constantly running out of power even though I had it in Ultra Power Saving Mode, and this is how I kept it working.


USB or Battery-Powered Fan

No power equals no air conditioning, and with a baby who gets heat rashes, a fan can alleviate some of the discomfort. I will forever be grateful to my sister who sent me a battery-powered fan for my little one. We then bought a USB-powered fan when the postal service was reestablished. Some people said Amazon wasn’t sending items to Puerto Rico, but I had no problems with them. That’s why I always recommend Amazon.


Camping Gear

Yup! We bought some camping gear too. The solar shower pictured below helped us A LOT when we had no running water coming out of the shower. The stove… oh the stove! I mean, propane gas was hard to find, but we managed. Of course, any lantern is a must, but the camping lanterns were my favorite. As for the tent, we bought it because I was getting tired of sleeping in the terrible heat, and the temperature in our terrace was very nice. I guess the only thing I really enjoyed about those days was going upstairs and gazing up at the stars. Since there was no power, you could see the stars like never before.


Gym bag or Carry On bag for each member of the family

This is more useful if you have to evacuate or if you’re staying elsewhere. However, it’s really best to be prepared for anything and everything, especially if you have little children. You won’t want to leave your house with just the clothes you have on!


In conclusion…

You can never be too prepared when it comes to a hurricane, because anything can happen. A hurricane like Hurricane Maria is something I will never forget, and neither should you. According to the George Washington University study 2,975 lives were lost in this devastating hurricane, and that’s just comparing the excess deaths with that of prior years. It wasn’t a case by case study.¬†Additionally, it scarred forever those who survived it. I just hope we learn from this and continue the efforts in rebuilding our beautiful archipelago of Puerto Rico.

So that’s it!

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