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The Big Storm

Let’s start by saying it hasn’t been any easy 2 weeks Living in our Caribbean paradise. You may think living in the Caribbean is easy? It really should be! We all dream of beautiful beaches, sunny skies and endless tequila sunrises. And for me its Mojitos, something about the mint leaves drives me crazy. Sorry, I was imagining better days when Mojitos were easier to get. This will make more sense later.

Let me start with Hurricane Irma. She was a little storm that quickly developed into one of the biggest storms the Caribbean has ever seen, a CAT 5. Yes, a CAT 5! I did not believe it was possible for a hurricane to actually develop into a CAT 5. Hurricane Irma destroyed multiple islands on its way to PR and I mean destroyed! I will never be able to properly explain the devastation. The BVI, USVI, Martinique, St. Martin and many other smaller islands were completely destroyed. It will take years for them to recover if they can recover at all.

We have several friends who have lost everything. The charter boating industry will never recover over there. All (4) of the St. Thomas’s US Post Offices were completely destroyed rendering the island virtually helpless. Almost all Caribbean industries rely on the US Postal Service for mail, parcels, money orders, PO Boxes, etc. It is unknown when they will resume normal delivery services, if ever.

Remember with the success of Amazon Prime (Free shipping/tax free purchases) mailing is a primary way for residents of the Caribbean to receive goods. This will have a drastic impact on employment and the tourism industry.

Well, let me get back to my crazy story.

The island of Puerto Rico is only 30 miles wide and 90 miles long. Hurricane Irma was supposed to veer north but left us all with our pants down. She buzzed by, tearing roofs off of houses, cracking trees in half and leaving us with waves over 20-30 feet breaking on the beaches. It was a storm for the history books. Irma went on to devastate the Florida Keys and other parts of the US. Everyone in PR thought this was the worst of the worst. We lost power for days, internet, cable, water and cell service. It was all gone! But it all started to return one by one and in less than a week everything was back to normal. Even the Postal Service in the Caribbean was completely shut down for three days. I’m sure you all know that motto, “Rain, Sleet, Snow or Hail”. It was a crippling storm.

As things settled down and we all started back to our normal lives. We cleaned up and took storm shutters off. We moved the boat back to the dock and put all the sails back on, solar panels, Bimini and everything else we took off. We have some friends that told us a trick about anchoring in storms. The trick worked and our boat survived 15 foot seas, 100 mph winds and didn’t move an inch. I will be forever grateful to them.

We laughed and joked about how storms never seem to really damage the west side of Puerto Rico. We also started several disaster relief programs to help the islands that were damaged and sent water, generators and so much more to help out. Then just like that it was reported that we had another developing storm called Hurricane Jose.

It was smaller but on the same path. It was intensifying and we all thought, how is this possible? Lightening never strikes twice, right? Hurricane Jose finally veered north and meandered around before turning into a tropical storm. He never really affected PRother than some really epic surfing waves. So we all thought it was over. Again, thinking how lucky the west side is/was.

We all became relaxed and somewhat complacent. We all went back to our normal daily routines (eating Pinchos, drinking Mojitos and living the Caribbean dream). This didn’t last long. The history books show one of the most devastating Hurricanes to hit PR was Hurricane George about twenty years ago. That storm was a CAT 3 and it virtually crippled PR for almost six months. The island had no power, phone service and water for up to six months. So many lost their lives and now it was a distant memory. A storm like that could never happen again, we are so much more prepared now….

Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria was developing off the coast of Africa. Puerto Rico sent almost all emergency supplies, National Guard troops and power company employees to assist the islands hit by the previous two storms, Irma and Jose. Puerto Rico was not ready for what was about to happen next. Everyone thought Maria would go north and spare PR. It always goes north.

Don’t worry, lightning never strikes twice.

I will never believe that statement again. So most of us were not prepared for what occurred next. On Saturday the Weather Channel broadcasted/predicted a possible direct hit from hurricane Maria. No one really took it seriously, including me. I went to the boat. I cleaned the bilges, deck and stainless. I even enjoyed a mojito with a fellow sailor. It was a beautiful weekend. On Monday, 9-18-17 the National Hurricane Center announced that Hurricane Maria was developing into a major storm and could be a Cat 2 or 3 hurricane. We all thought, no way lighting never strikes twice.

This storm Hurricane Maria ended up growing into a CAT 5 with winds greater than 200 mph and was going to hit PR. Everyone still couldn’t believe it. We all started running around trying to get supplies. But the supplies needed were sent off to other islands the week earlier. It was unreal.

On Tuesday 9-18-17 we moved the boat back out to anchor (using the same anchor trick), removed everything again, sealed all windows and made a small prayer. The last hurricane buzzed by but it was not a direct hit. This one will be direct hit. I knew the boat might be a total lose. I just had a bad feeling about this one. Plus, this was the last day we had any form of communication with the outside world. It would be at least a week without cable, internet, cell service, phone service, power, water, fuel, ATM’s, credit cards and so much more.

We then focused our efforts on the house. We put hurricane straps on the wooden roof addition. It’s a small one bedroom, one bath unit wood structure (stick built) on the roof of our cement home. We thought for sure it would be blown away in this storm. But we were going to try everything possible to save it.

We then put all storm shutters on and tied everything else down. I know I am forgetting some of the other things we did. Let’s just say we were busier than I can ever remember being. The past two weeks were just a blur to begin with, then it was about to get real. Really, real!

Everyone was in a frenzy, getting boards, hurricane straps, food, water, gas/fuel and even dog food.

The hurricane was only supposed to last 10-12 hours. So as far as food, water and ice we didn’t need that much. Besides, this wasn’t our first rodeo. We were not worried and we were more prepared this time. I will admit staying up for over 48 hours preparing for this hurricane is not recommended. You really start to imagine doing things you didn’t do. It all was a blur anyway but the lack of sleep made it so much worse.

We sat down after dinner and started to watch the weather channel. We watched the path of Hurricane Maria change. I will admit I started to panic. Then the power went out. The power always goes out on this side of the island if the wind blows. This was not a problem as I had just replaced the fuel line and glow plug in our generator. I fired up the generator and went back inside to watch the weather channel. After about an hour later the generator started making a strange noise then turned off. I ran down stairs and found that the piston seized and the generator was rendered useless. Now I had no way of knowing where this storm was going.

I went outside and started to think about my options. I knew I could make it through the hurricane but I wasn’t sure about the other four people I was responsible for. I started thinking that maybe a shelter would be a good idea?..

GET OUT OF THE HOUSE NOW!

Then I received a call from my father in Maryland. He said, “Get out of your house now. That storm is on a direct path to you.”. Ok, I was already freaked out until that call. I was completely on the verge of a breakdown now. I know my role as a father and husband is to protect my family, but sometimes you just don’t have all the correct answers. I really pondered what to do.

I then called my friend Jerry. He lives in Mayaguez near our first house. He told me the same thing. Get out of that house now! Our house is on a mountain top on the west side of PR. We have an amazing view. But we don’t have anything around that blocks any wind. We literally are on top of the mountain. He invited us to go to his house in Mayaguez as it was going to be further south of the path of the hurricane. Everyone fought me about leaving the house as we have three dogs and a couple of cats. We ended up agreeing and locked up the animals in the house and drove to Mayaguez. Our group barely fit into the car with the few supplies we took. It was a fun drive as we laughed and joked about being crammed into a tin can with a cooler, pillows, a small bag of clothes and chips. Healthy food, huh? My lovely bride Jenn, my son Liam (17), my daughter Madison (20, and had just gotten knee surgery five days before) and myself we had no idea what we were getting ready to a part of.

We arrived there around 10:00 pm and Jerry and his wife had made some beds for us and we had a glass of wine or two? We talked and laughed until 1:16 am.

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