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Living in Paradise – Life After the Storm

The Mental Part

So the hurricane was eight months ago now, and it still resonates around here like it was yesterday.

The power and water continue to go out daily. Many sections of roads are still missing and not passable. We still have telephone poles and wires down all over. Our house is still in major repair as are many others. I guess this is the new reality living in PR? I will admit it wasn’t easy living in paradise before but now it feels impossible.

As we continue our daily lives trying to rebuild and help each other it seems we all are having similar fears/issues. We all still seem to have nightmares, nervousness, instant fear, less motivation and many other issues. I even had a crazy dream where a horse walked into our bedroom and backed himself into the closet. He then buried his head in my clothes in fear. Some say we are all experiencing some form PTSD. I’m not convinced but I will say when a thunderstorm rolls in I end up with severe anxiety and a rapid heartbeat. It’s weird, I know.

Our last two weeks have been more difficult than we expected. Liam is finishing up his last year of High School at an all-Spanish speaking private school. In PR a simple graduation is just not enough. We have to have a different celebration every weekend. Ring ceremonies, move up, grad parties, etc. It’s fun but tiresome. We have four more weeks of this.

We also hired a so-called contractor to repair our roof, the windows, doors, repaint, tile, and fix the gazebo and fence. This was a huge mistake as it has taken way too long and the result was far from what we expected. Live and learn, right?

And lastly, we said goodbye to our lady of the sea, Address Unknown. She has a new owner. It was a bitter sweet farewell. I will miss her terribly. I am sure you have heard the best days of owning a boat are the day you buy and the day you sell it. For me, after the hurricane I no longer wanted to be on the water.

I was raised on the water. I have sailed boats my entire life, but when I saw the thirty five foot waves breaking on the streets of PR. I knew my water days were over. Just the raw power unleashed by Hurricane Maria convinced me of this. I did try to sail the boat a few times after the hurricane but it just never felt the same. So hopefully the new owner will enjoy her more and treat her right. Here is a picture of where she is and the path that she is on. The miracle of GPS tracking software is kind of cool.

So now for the good:

Liam will be done with Inmaculada Concepcion. Yah, no more tuition! Or so I thought. He wants to go to University of PR. So after the scholarships and Pell Grants we might be in a better spot? Hopefully, that one will work out too.

Madison, my daughter evacuated PR four weeks after the hurricane. She has a new home in North Carolina. I cannot remember her ever being so happy. She is actually growing vegetables. Yes, the transition has occurred. She is growing up. It makes me want to cry with joy.

Berkley is still living in Tennessee with the twins. We have not seen the babies in almost a year. She is still trying to figure out her life, and has started a new blog. I know she misses the beach life.

Our house now has a new roof and fresh paint. We have a new dual fuel generator and a 1000 gallon back up water supply. We also have several new doors, windows, ceiling fans and so on. So things are stating to get better!

We also have been purging stuff from the attic for the last eight months, not by choice. Everything up there was damaged by water. We have never been good at throwing out the old when we replaced with new. The hurricane has forced us to do a lot of things we did not want to do, including selling the boat. But honestly, we stopped using the boat. So selling it was the right thing to do.

Living in paradise after the hurricane has not been easy. The mental part is the hardest thing I have dealt with in my life. We all seem to struggle in different ways- some with frustration, anger, fear, isolation, exhaustion and many others. I find myself not communicating with family and friends as much as before. I enjoy being by myself in a quiet room far from loud noises. I wake up every morning and drink coffee by myself while starring off to the western sky.

Sorry, I have to refer to the title of this page now. I have been rambling.

Living in Paradise – The Mental Part

I will admit I do live in what most say is paradise. And I do agree it can be amazingly beautiful. But the mental damage that has occurred to all of us is far greater than any of us expected or can believe. I still find myself thinking that I will wake up and this will have all been a dream. But that never seems to happen. We didn’t get power or water back until February, but it still goes out every day, so does it count? At least its something.. Some towns still have no water and are not expected to have power for a very long time! Houses still are missing roofs, some due to the cost of fixing, and others because the people have left the island. Everyone here is still be effected by what happened in September last year, and the worst part is, hurricane season is about to come around again… Wish us luck!

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What survived, or didn’t..

Day 6: On Sunday, 9-24-17

It was a hot day with little to no wind. So we filled up some water jugs from a hose in town that still flowed water. Yes, for some reason that hose worked. But not for long, it too was dead the next day. At some point during the day we were invited to go to dinner that night at a friend’s house. It was nice to enjoy a glass of wine and some sense of normalcy. We talked and laughed and relaxed for a bit. It was nice. Then two guests (Kylar and Christian) stopped by from St. Martin. They had lost their boat in Hurricane Irma the week earlier and somehow meandered across PR to Cabo Rojo to work on a boat. They were offered a place to stay after the hurricane provided they work and repair a sailboat in the harbor.

While talking with them we all focused on St. Martin and the incredible situation they were in. They said they locked themselves in a bathroom for 14 hours as Hurricane Irma passed them by. The storm removed anything that was over three feet high. They said even the brick and cement buildings were leveled. It was the most horrifying experience of their lives. They then spoke about the boats in Cabo Rojo during and after Hurricane Maria. I felt anxious and wanted to leave. I really didn’t want to hear about our boat or any boat for that matter. I knew this storm destroyed everything in Cabo Rojo. They continued talking about how bad it was and then said only three boats survived.

Think about this, ninety boats at anchor and only three left standing after.

They said it again and again, that only three boats survived the second Hurricane in Cabo Rojo! I knew my boat was now gone for sure. What are the odds? That relaxed feeling I had from the wine and the hearty dinner was gone! They continued to talk about all the boats at anchor and that one boat broke free and crashed into all the other boats at anchor. That one boat caused the destruction of almost 25 boats by its self. Several boats were washed onto shore, into trees, flipped over and some are just plain missing. By the way, these are not little tiny sailboats. These are live aboard yachts.

As the conversation continued I just couldn’t take it any longer and asked the big question. Did you notice our boat “Address Unknown?” After a long pause Christian said, yes. Is that the boat with the boom tied down to the deck? The real pretty white Beneteau? My heart sunk. I just knew she was gone. What was he waiting for? Go ahead, let me have it. Shoot me in the heart. After a long pause he finally said that the three boats that survived the hurricane were a 60-foot trimaran from Norway, a 42-foot Catalina and a 36-foot Beneteau. Those were the only three!

He continued to describe the storm stating the waves were over 37 feet high with winds over 200 mph. I know sailors like to exaggerate but I honestly think he was right. When the first boat broke free from anchor that boat took all the other boats with her into the mangroves. The waves must have been epic. I wish I still surfed. Ok, maybe not this time. Somehow “Address Unknown” remained on anchor in front of the marina untouched. I honestly didn’t believe them. He said no one else could believe it either. I thought how could they remember our boat from ninety others. He must be confused. I went home that night with a since of optimism and skepticism. How could this be? They just had to be wrong.

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Hurricane Maria

21st Birthday in a Hurricane

Day 7: Monday, September 25, 2017

On this day 21 years earlier my second child Madison was born. It was her birthday. I thought, it is going to be a good day. No matter what, I am going to make it the best day I can. We missed some of her birthdays while she was in boarding school, so whenever she is near, we are sure to make it a big deal. Besides we all need something to celebrate. This had been the most difficult two weeks of my life. Can you imagine trying to celebrate someone’s birthday in the aftermath of a hurricane? Jenn and I discussed what to do. She would try and get gas for the car. So we could possibly go to dinner someplace. But nothing is open. Remember no power, no water, no internet no ATM and so on. At some point you would think I would remember that.

Jenn ended up waiting in line for gas for six hours in 100-degree heat. I made my traditional breakfast for Madison. Making breakfast is kind of a tradition for me and the kids. I made her breakfast tacos (Eggs, bacon and fresh salsa on a tortilla). We were still trying to come up with a way to make the day special but it really was impossible.

Madison stayed on the couch that morning icing her knee and enjoying the small electric fan. The knee surgery (11 days earlier) went well but she is still in a lot of pain. I will admit she has been a real trooper through this entire ordeal. Plus, she hasn’t been able to work (earn money) for 2 weeks due to the lack of internet. She makes all her livelihood by working online. I knew she needed to take her mind off reality too.

Liam asked if he could go to the boat. So, I then sent Liam to retrieve the sailboat with Kylar and Christian from the other night. I didn’t want to go as I knew they were wrong about the boat. I also needed to pick up the birthday cake. I went to work again thinking that somehow I would have information from San Juan and/or DC Postal headquarters but nothing. I also could no longer get into the facility as the electronic locks were locked out. I guess when the batteries for the alarm run out it secures and locks out the entire building. Preventing anyone from entering and/or exiting. Not a very good system as we don’t have power to release the doors or phone service to call for help if you are locked inside.

On my way home I heard that the ATM in Econo was working. I ran inside and no one was in line at the ATM. I knew it wasn’t working but I tried it anyway. Sure enough I was able to get some cash out before it went off line. My day was getting better. I bought a cake and headed home. On the way, another friend flagged me down and offered me two lobsters and a grouper. Wow, the day just keeps getting better.

Shortly after that Liam arrived home. I was terrified to hear about his day. I just couldn’t take it. I do remember telling him not to come home with bad news. I probably should not have said that. He started to tell me about our boat but the neighbor came by asking for some help with fuel. He knew that we were going to wait in line tomorrow for fuel and asked if we could take two small tanks with us. Thank God for our neighbors. I cannot even explain how the community came together to help eachother. It was amazing. Faith in humanity restored?

Finally, Liam said, our boat was in fact one of the last three boats floating. Address Unknown survived another CAT 5 Hurricane on anchor. This is unheard of. Nothing should have survived this. I thought that anchor trick really works. Gosh, Don and Bridgette really knew how to get a boat through a hurricane. It turns out the anchor trick didn’t really work this time. As our boat drug anchor during the first blast of the hurricane the second anchor clipped a mooring ball anchor. That mooring ball anchor was a caterpillar tractor engine. It was put there several years ago and probably could hold a battleship.

It was time to celebrate.

I cooked the lobster on the grill with the grouper. It was an amazing meal. We then had cake and fell fast asleep.

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

We have passed the hump so to speak. We are now without power for over 80+ days. Actually, longer than that if you count back to Hurricane Irma.

When Hurricane Irma hit us it knocked out power for 6 days. The power came back on for three days then, well you know the rest. Some of our friends call this adventure glamour camping. It is fun at times and maddening at other times. We play a lot more card games. We go to bed a little earlier than before. We watch a lot of shooting stars. So this is kind of funny.

We decided to invite several friends over to share Thanksgiving dinner with. We needed a generator so we borrowed one from a friend. Shortly after connecting the generator to the house I remember walking into the kitchen and saying, “WOW, that oven light is super bright!” Jenn then looked over to the oven and said the same thing. The best way to describe it is when the sun’s rays shine through the clouds. It seems like God is getting ready to say something to you. Then there is music in the back of your head. Tah duh….Something like that. You know the feeling.

At this point I knew something was severely wrong.

Then we saw smoke coming from behind the stove and dishwasher. Ok, maybe it was a small fire. Somehow the generator was producing too many Volts or Amps (whatever) and it ended up blowing up the stove, microwave, dishwasher and all the electrical outlets in the kitchen. We quickly turned off that generator and cooked the turkey on the BBQ grill.

Jenn (my lovely bride) held it together better than I expected. We opened a bottle of wine and made a toast to the dead stove, microwave and dishwasher. Nothing was going to ruin her day.

 

BTW: I thought the turkey was one of the best I have ever had. It was a little challenging cooking everything outside but overall it was a success.

So I guess we can add the kitchen items to the long list of items damaged by Maria, kind of. And now for some good news, the water returned last week.

Yes, we can take a shower in the actual shower. Sadly, no more rain gutter showers for us. I will admit I kind of liked scaring off the last few remaining neighbors as I ran under the rain gutters in my underwear. Plus added massage feature was amazing. I remember standing outside alone enjoying my rain gutter shower during a thunderstorm. I looked to my left and Madison was taking a rain gutter shower too. Like father, like daughter. It is the little moments we treasure, right?

I don’t know how true this is as we really don’t have access to any real news. I have heard that we lost over 450,000 residents so far to the states. It is predicted to be around 750,000 after all the dust settles. That will make a huge impact on the remaining residents. As for now we are seeing multiple stores, restaurants and bars (yes, the bars too) closing down for good. Most people say only the strong stayed. But honestly, if I knew the power, water, internet, cable was going to take this long to return I would have flown the coop too. The people that left were pretty smart.

So let me go back to the title, “The light at the end of the tunnel”.”

Unfortunately, this is a very long tunnel and the light is really dim at the end. But we can see things happening. We have water in our house. We can see lights in the far off distance and the mojitos have ice again. So, it’s not all that bad.

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The DEA Agents

Today was a great day. I had a visit from two DEA agents. They legitimately were checking on how we were doing. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. I have never been more impressed with a government agency than I am with them. THE DEA ROCKS!!!

I wish the postal service cared that much. The Postal Inspectors really are not doing much other than driving around in an air conditioned car. Such a waste! The Postal service sent several agents to Puerto Rico from all over the states to drive around Puerto Rico and check on the offices. Nice thought, but give them the tools they need to really do something. Plus, they really don’t understand security at individual offices. I have asked them repeatedly to check on my missing employee and they seem to forget as they walk out the door after every visit. I know they are out of there element, but come on! A missing employee should be job one! I wish I had time to drive to Isabela to find my missing employee in an air conditioned rental car.

Anyway, My lovely bride finally cracked and asked for a hotel for a few nights. I agreed as it would be nice to take a real shower and watch the news. It is nice to step out of reality as right now it is completely, FU#%ed!

I saw on the news President Trump was in town and throwing out toilet paper to a crowd in San Juan. I thought, Ok, that’s funny. But in reality he was tossing out paper towels. Not sure why that made news. Maybe the news wanted him to throw out $100 bills. I am sure if he threw out $100 bills that would not have been enough and the news would have spun it another way. I really don’t understand the CNN News entertainment sensationalism. I understand it makes people watch news but do people really believe anything they see on the news anymore? I know, I don’t!

So back to the hotel. Yes, we left the house and we are at a hotel. We have spotty WIFI at best. The room at the Holiday Inn is very nice. The employees are great and the hotel is full of Homeland Security, FEMA, and National Guard members. We spoke to a few of them and they have all said this is a F’d up situation, and they also said Katrina was under control within five days. This situation is out of control and its over 16 days. They also cannot believe what is going on here.

You can see more of Anthony Dooleys Rebuild Puerto Rico photos here > https://anthonydooley.pixieset.com/mariareliefphotos/

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No Improvement in Sight

Interesting day. I keep hearing from our family and friends when we get Wi-Fi that things are getting better and the troops are on their way. But this is not entirely true. They are here. But the lack of communication has grounded all operations.

A plane full of supplies from the Dallas Mavericks arrived yesterday. Somehow, a basketball team was able to get some supplies in and distributed but the US government could not?

Anyway, we met with some troops that are waiting for some direction and mission info from FEMA. We drove them around because they do not have vehicles yet. We showed them the most damaged areas of western PR. They also are blown away by how bad it is and can’t believe nothing is happening yet. They have nothing to do but protect a small airport for now.

They explained that FEMA only sent one employee to the west side. How can one person without communication actually do anything? This guy doesn’t even have a SAT phone.

The troops are as disgusted as the rest of us but did assure me all this will change soon.

Today at the post office was crazy. We are still about 10 days behind. At least that is our guess based on the dates on the mail. Everyone wants and needs the items that are coming in the mail but we just can’t control what they send us. We are processing all mail daily to make sure everyone can get their mail. The volume of mail is unbelievable. The Aguada Post Office employees just don’t have the resources they need to process their mail. That mail is backing up and they just can’t keep up with it.

All employees are starting to breakdown. I know it’s hard to imagine working 10-12 hours then start a quest for water, food, gas and/or cash. The lines for necessary items are getting shorter but you do have to have time to wait. Most lines are now less than 2-3 hours. The frustration is beyond comprehension. We all just can’t continue to do this.

My bride and I broke down and went to a hotel. It was nice to sleep in a bed with air conditioning. I took a much needed long shower and used a flushing toilet.

The hotel doesn’t have everything working either.

The satellite television in the room has about ten channels. Most channels are blacked out. The ATM in the hotel casino is out of cash and they have no bottled water. The phones in the rooms do not work. The restaurant in the hotel has a limited but pretty good menu. I had a cheeseburger without veggies. I love tomatoes. I am convinced I could eat a tomato and onion only sandwich if it was available.

I forgot to mention. We have no fresh fruits or veggies. Occasionally, you can find someone selling pineapples but that is kind of rare now. I was told the entire crop of pineapples was destroyed. No fresh fruit or veggies available anywhere. I am so glad I am not a vegetarian.

Another day has past and we seem to be in the same situation as day one or two of the hurricane. What is an expectable expectation after a hurricane for things to go back to normal or just improve a little? If we could get at least one of the four essential items (water, food, gas and cash) taken off the daily chore list that would be an improvement for me. Ok, maybe add cell service to that list. That would be nice too.

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Post Office After A Hurricane

So today we decided nothing was going to bring us down. We still have no communication with the outside world. But we have hot dogs in the ice chest (yum) and a bag of Ice from Hotel Cofressi.

The hotel owners/staff have done so much for this community. They have provided a home including meals for multiple families that lost their houses. They have allowed anyone/everyone to use their phones so people could call the states (when the phone works). They have passed out water/ice.

Keep in mind that half of the hotel was destroyed by hurricane Maria. This season will probably be the worst tourist season in Puerto Rico’s history. Almost all preexisting reservations have cancelled for this year. The owners and staff of that hotel are truly amazing. Again, nothing is going to bring us down today, right.

We spent over an hour driving three miles to get to work. I decided to go to the Anasco Post Office to check email and run some computer programs. That was a huge mistake as it took over two hours to get there and return. I did get to open Outlook and review some emails. I tried to reply to as many as I could but I knew I needed to head back to my office.

At 11:00 am the post office generator at my office ran out of fuel, as predicted. We have been trying to get diesel fuel for over a week. Then two postal vehicles broke down. One carrier had to hitch hike back to the post office as she had no way to communicate. Luckily, she made it back to the post office in less than two hours safely.

The traffic is horrible everywhere. The gas lines are shorter now but you still can’t really drive anywhere after 8:00 am because that is when the gas stations start selling gas and most streets become impassable. The banks have lines of over 200 people or more. The grocery stores have lines to enter. They have security guards in front of the doors. They only allow a few people in at a time. Thank god we have ice and hot dogs and don’t have to worry about that mess for a few days.

I will admit we sweat more and we eat a lot less every day. It seems the day by day task is that of a hunter/gatherer (caveman). Most days involve a quest for these four essential items water, food, gas and cash. Not necessarily in that order but each one does affect the other.

We finally got about forty gallons of fuel for the postal generator around 2:00 pm. The postmaster from Aguada and Aguadilla went out and found a 55-gallon drum. Had it filled somehow. We were able to syphon the fuel over then they headed off to Ramey and San Antonio to provide fuel to those post offices as well. The rest of the day we smelled like diesel fuel. We have lights now but no running water to wash up/off. Then the mail truck finally arrived from San Juan.

Normally our mail arrives around 6:00 am. The truck is full of Rincon mail and Aguada mail. If we don’t process this mail, we will not be able to move around inside the building. It seems every customer wants to know the same thing, “When will my mail arrive?” It is so hard to repeat the same thing and stay positive. “We just don’t know!” We now have 500+ customers daily but that doesn’t include the 500+ customers from the Aguada Post Office. Overall, having one thousand customers doesn’t sound that bad. But when half your staff is unaccounted for and you only have two employees working mail. The task insurmountable. It appears that the mail is about eight days behind. We are not sure as we have little to no communication with Postal managers. We did however have two postal inspectors show up again and ask how we were doing. They left the employee gate wide open and we had customers coming in our back door looking for mail. It was very frustrating as that is there primary job to enforce security.

The 30-40 employees use rain water from a trash can to flush toilets. We have more mail in the building than two Christmas seasons. Customers are mad as hell because they don’t have their Amazon products. We have no access to any form of communication with the outside world or our immediate world. Nothing! And our last two digital TV antenna channels went off air yesterday. The hotspot is useless and cellphones just plain don’t work.

If it was getting better shouldn’t we be getting more information, not less? I finished as much as I could at work and headed home. On the way we stopped by to check on a few friends and ended up having some pizza and a few beers. Wait, cold beers. You have no idea how good a cold beer is after weeks of post hurricane stuff. See, it all worked out. As I stated in the beginning, nothing was going to bring us down today. In fact, pizza does the opposite. It puts a smile on everyone’s face unless it burns the top of your mouth.