Growing up as a child in Tokyo, I have faced many natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons. We were always aware of them and have been trained on what to do. Typhoon means “strong wind” in Japanese and it is no different from a cyclone or hurricane, just a naming convention based on the location. The most recent weather phenomenon for me was in the Pacific Islands. I was in the Solomon Islands in early February of 2017, when a cyclone came nearby. Everything was ok and there was very little damage. Thank God.
Today is September 19, 2017 and I am currently in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I have been here for almost a month and have been blessed with phenomenal weather, great people, good food and still enjoying my long holidays.
About two weeks ago, we faced Hurricane Irma here in Puerto Rico. Instead of staying at Maria del Mar’s apartment in front of the beach, we decided to head to Miramar, to Marty and Javier’s place. We closed the shutters on the window, put all valuables in our backpack and headed for their place, which was a short 10-minute ride to Miramar. Upon getting to Marty’s place, I helped Javier set up wooden shutters on the windows and we were getting ready for the hurricane. Of course, we filled our cars with gas and did all the food shopping needed for a week.
24 hours before Irma, there were several notices on television. The governor of Puerto Rico stated the urgency of this situation and the possibility of not having electricity for months and no water for a few days.
I saw Facebook posts online about the situation on the other islands. Irma went through various islands in the Caribbean and some of the islands like St. Martin, St. Barts were already hit hard and almost no communication from those islands. I have fond memories of the islands, since I did a tour from Trinidad and Tobago all the way to Puerto Rico, crossing through most of the islands. Jeff, whom I met in St. Kitts and Nevis posted the situation on his island every couple of hours.
I had no idea how strong Hurricane Irma was going to be. Irma had set numerous records already for its intensity and endurance. Wind speeds were running over 180 miles per hour and ranked as one of the strongest storms ever seen in this area.
I personally did not take it too seriously, since I have faced many typhoons in my life and there never really was a problem, but on a Caribbean island with minimal infrastructure, it was a whole different story.
The four of us and Inigo (new born baby of 7 days) were huddled up at home, while the three large dogs barked outside.
That evening, we watched Netflix until the Internet went out and after that, we played Zinga.
We were asleep when Irma passed by and luckily, we only felt the tip of the hurricane. The next morning, we realized that we had no electricity, but they had a generator so we did not face any difficulties. The streets were filled with fallen trees and we decided to stay for a few more nights since we had no electricity in Maria’s apartment. Almost 500,000 people in Puerto Rico had no electricity and the situation was pretty bad. Most of the tourist areas like Condado and Isla Verde did not have electricity for 3 days and our friends Brian/Camilla still does not have electricity (two weeks after Irma).
Our first meal post Irma was from a nearby Puerto Rican restaurant. It was very full and they had a generator working. We did not pay any federal or state tax, since the governor decided no tax for the next 48 hours. Well, that kind of helped, but did not help people that still do not have electricity. Let me remind you that Puerto Rico is known as the bankrupt island and the middle class is getting thinner and thinner. I assume a good 35% of the people are living under “middle class.”
In the end, Puerto Rico was not hit that hard compared to the other islands like St. Martin, St. Barts, USVI, BVI. I heard from Facebook posts that a lot of looting and people were killing for food in St. Martin.
During the week of Sept 12, the Puerto Rican government created a temporary facility for the islanders that were affected by the hurricane. The Convention Center in Puerto Rico was converted into 500+ beds with food, water, clothes, supplies for the people that were affected.
I was volunteering at the convention center with Habitat for Humanity Puerto Rico. It was really great to see so many Puerto Ricans helping out the other islanders. We received a hefty amount of donations that ranged from canned food, clothing, water, and supplies. There were several organizations that had booths. Here were some that were noteworthy:
Claro/T-Mobile – telephone connection/internet
Starbucks/Local Coffee store – coffee, chips, crackers
Extreme Haircut – free haircuts
Fundacion Stefano – provided games, crayons, etc
Massage Parlor – provided massage for the refugees
Habitat for Humanity in Puerto Rico – getting the sponsors to display at the convention center, getting the volunteers like myself to help out
Overall, I was very moved to see that so many people wanted to help out. We had more than enough volunteers during the four days that I was there. The convention center is still available to host guests/refugees as of today, but we are more worried about Hurricane Maria, which will be coming in less than 12 hours.
We are keeping our fingers crossed on this Category 5 hurricane.
September 19, 2017.