• Member Since 10th Jul, 2011
  • offline last seen Last Tuesday


More Blog Posts20


Life After Hurricane Maria · 1:21am Sep 28th, 2017

You guys don't mind if I vent a little, do you? I'mma detail for you how much life sucks here right now, even though I'm one of the more fortunate ones.

Let me tell you guys a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down.

So, here I am, living in Puerto Rico, as I have been for many, many years now. It is September, Thursday 14th and we just went through the suck that was Hurricane Irma (which barely skimmed us and still did a number on us), so I took a well-deserved weekend vacation to visit some friends in DC. Halfway through my weekend getaway, I start getting texts about another hurricane, and how it's apparently homing in on Puerto Rico.

Oh joy.

By Monday 18th, with just a few hours to go before my flight home, I get a text from work: We're closing the office tomorrow to prepare for the storm. For a moment, I debate changing my flight: I know airlines offer waivers on fees if your flight drops you on top of hurricanes.

'The hurricane is hitting Wednesday, so there's definitely gonna be clean-up on Thursday, and I'll probably be heading into work on Friday if the damage is around the same as Irma'.

Those had been my innocent thoughts on Monday when I called the airline to ask about rescheduling my flight for Thursday 21st. No dice, booked through. 'It'd be really irresponsible of me to stay past Thursday; they might call me in on Friday...' So, screw it, I guess we're spending the hurricane back home.

I should've stayed in DC.

The last truly devastating storm to hit Puerto Rico was Hurricane Georges back in 98. I was but a lad, but I still recall how much it sucked, even if I didn't have to go to school in weeks.

Hurricane Georges is a sissy little cloud fart compared to Maria's level of suck.

Let me start with this: whatever news you're getting Stateside (dunno about the rest of the world), the situation here is far, far worse. I cannot stress this enough. This hurricane engulfed Puerto Rico entirely. There are no parts of the island that were spared.

Let me paint a quick geographic picture here: Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles, a very rough rectangle running about 110 miles East-West and and 40 miles North-South (an area roughly similar to Connecticut). Starting from the Northeast, there are a series of mountainous ridges that run diagonally Southwest like a spine. North and South of this spine are plains and basins. People live all over, with large population centers along the plains, the largest concentrated in the central Northeast plains, called the (San Juan) Metropolitan Area. This area alone has more population than the entirely of some US states. Administratively, the island is divided into 78 municipalities much in the same way States are divided into Counties.

So, the storm hits early morning on Wednesday, and boy, did the suck begin early. The power goes out soon after the storm begins in earnest, and we get to live through the agonizingly slow 14-hour ordeal as we watch our lives change all around us. Our huge royal palm tree out back is felled, damaging the zinc roof we had put out in the yard to cover one of the cars, and not soon after, the poor car feels the brunt of the collapsed roof battering it as the winds whip it up and down. Cellphone signal dies out somewhere during the storm, I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly when. The wind howls and howls, and at first it's kinda cool to see such awesome power, but then the hours drag on and the damn thing just. Won't. End.

Our house is made of concrete entirely, roof included, as are most structures in Puerto Rico. Intellectually, you know the house will be fine... But living through it, peeking out the window and seeing all the flying debris and falling trees, you still get a little sense of dread... Not just for yourself, but for everyone around you... All those of lesser means and lower income that still live in wooden houses or shanty towns. And all those others that live up in the mountains, where the concrete won't save you from a landslide. And all those that live near the ocean or next to rivers. Or most anywhere in Puerto Rico, considering that the constant government corruption often leads to ecological concerns being outright ignored as money changes hands and permits are granted to build in flood zones, or to dig out natural barriers, or reroute rivers...

There is a lot to think about when you have nothing else to do but stare out the window, sleepless, during the very slow passage of a hurricane.

Then the morning finally comes, and the winds finally die down, and we can finally step outside, and wow.

Here's the thing about the Tropics: there's no such thing as seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall are indistinguishable. Plants are trees are always green, there's always something flowering, leaves never fall. "Winter" here means that the temperature is in the high 80s instead of the high 90s Fahrenheit.

There's not a single leaf left on any tree on the island. Whatever trees weren't felled were snapped in half, and those that remained upright lost all their leaves. You can see towards the horizon, and see everything, as there are simply no trees left to block out the view to anywhere. It's all matchsticks, like how trees look in the dead of winter in temperate zones, or after a nuclear blast.

There are thousands, probably millions of dead birds. Some will probably go extinct. Those that remain are confused and at a loss as to where to feed. The bees are going insane. They will chase you down in a swarm if you're holding a can of soda, because there are no flowers around to get nectar from.

All forests are stripped. It's heartbreaking, and we haven't even gotten to human life.

And you know what? For more than a week, we haven't been able to get to human life. Power transmission towers, radio towers, and cellular towers, they're all stripped or entirely removed from the landscape. All of them. The only form of communication has been AM radio transmission towers; I reiterate: this is the only means of communications left. Roads have been destroyed by floods or blocked by slides or entire forests of felled trees. Data centers are flooded, antennas are destroyed. AM radio is the only way anyone can listen for or send help. FEMA is using AM radio to find people and communicate where help can be found.

Remember those 78 municipalities I mentioned? The mayors of these municipalities are being physically air-lifted in from their respective administrative areas so that they can actually report on the state of their municipalities and request for aid. There's no other way to communicate other than face-to-face.

One week later, and there are still municipalities and communities deep in the mountains or in the valleys between that we know nothing about. Emergency lines were strung up to power a couple of hospitals in the Metro Area, but the rest of the island remains in the dark. A few cellphone antennas have been turned on, again in the Metro Area. It's how I'm able to type this today, finally. But the 74 other municipalities outside the Metro Area? No power, no water, no cell, no internet, no phones. They are on their own.

FEMA has been receiving a ton of aid, but they are sitting with their thumbs up their asses. There's a lot of red-tape involved in helping people, apparently, and the island is descending into chaos while FEMA very slowly and methodically doles out aid piecemeal. Mind you, FEMA is the one that oversees and controls every aspect of aiding the island in every way so, while the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and FAA are all ready to go... Well, they're waiting on FEMA to point them where to go.

Since there's no means to call people in to work, there's not enough truckers around to run supplies and gas and diesel tankers. People that need gas for their cars or generators are making hours-long miles-long lines. Businesses and corporations and relief forces... No one has enough gas to go around, even though there is enough to go around; it's the supply lines themselves that are hindered. People have resorted to vandalism and armed robbery to get supplies: truckers don't want to drive anywhere unless they have police escort.

It's been a week and I still haven't heard from all my friends that live outside the Metro Area, and they haven't heard from us. Thousands have already lost everything to flooding (preventable flooding caused by that corruption I mentioned). There's a curfew in place indefinitely, so people can't even get gas unless they make the lines in the daylight, and then they end up not getting it anyways. It's madness, and there's no end in sight.

This is exhausting to write... I think I'mma stop here for now. At the very least, my family and I are safe, our house is fine, and we're doing okay on supplies and gas for now... But this is a nightmare, and we're gonna live it for months.

Take care, my peeps.

Comments ( 14 )
Wanderer D

Thanks for checking in tonight, bro...

This is still way more information than I've been getting from my news feed; I hadn't realized it was this bad.

As someone from the Rest of the World (in this case, Finland), I got to admit that Puerto Rico's situation has been a minor part of the news over here. I knew you got badly battered, and that the power was out on the island, but I had no idea what it meant in practice until I read your post just now.

Best of luck to you, your family, and the whole of Puerto Rico going forwards. I hope FEMA gets things sorted out and the aid starts to reach the people who need it, and things start stabilizing and normalizing for you all.

Hey, I know things are bleak, but this morning the American Red Cross arrived and they're going to begin the process of restoring communication to the island. The cell service you're using? Those are my friends who deployed this morning! Look for nerds with a giant metal wire attached to a box; they're focusing on HF radio first, and then will move to cell towers. Try to check in today if you get this; the casualty rates are high (unfortunately you're more aware than any of us). Stay safe, and we look forward to hearing from you.

I read some news articles about how supplies for all of Puerto Rico are sitting on the pier in San Juan, not being delivered. People proposed various theories as to why they weren't being delivered. Because the roads weren't clear? No; the roads are clear enough to get to other cities. Because there isn't enough diesel oil? But diesel oil is among the supplies.

It's because there aren't enough licensed truck drivers, according to NPR, and to the Daily Kos, which says,

Puerto Rico Governor Puts Out Call For Licensed Truck Drivers To Help Deliver Vital Supplies.

One of the key strangle points when it comes to getting supplies where they need to be in Puerto Rico — indeed out of the port they are currently sitting at — is a shortage of licensed truck drivers.

If you or someone you know can help, call 469-401-9603. According to David Begnaud’s report on this, communications on the island are still limited so when you call, you will get an answering machine. That will be followed by a text message asking for your information — including your truck driving license number.

I don't know how hard it is to drive a big truck. I know it's hard to back them up. But when you have 3+ million people without food or medical supplies because there aren't enough licensed truck drivers, while the food is starting to rot on the pier, it seems to me you could bend the rules. Give them a one-day truck-driving course and send them out.

Glad to hear you and your house, at least, seem to be fine, even if everything else is wrecked. Good luck with the recovery.

Let me tell you guys a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down.

Careful, you only get one Reverse Bel Aire

And thank you for keeping an eye out for me. I was very glad to find you and others had messaged me when I finally got data back on my cell.

We'll get better... It's just taking frustratingly long.

I haven't even been able to check local news, I had been without internet for so long. It's still kinda slow and annoying to try to read these media-heavy news sites on my weak phone signal.

Yeah, I think the biggest problem is that there's no comms left here, nearly every internet line and cell tower was destroyed, so there's hardly any way to actually even get news out to the rest of the world.

I was at the airport and saw the mobile cell towers fueling up! Hopefully soon I'll be able to contact people outside the Metro Area!

There's a lot of commercial drivers here, but since there's no means of communication, you can't even call them in! Many are also probably dealing with the disaster and not even able to leave their homes or get to their trucks.

Can I add that Reverse Bel Air to my FEMA claim and get another one later on?

It doesn't sound like FEMA is in any hurry to get its act together either.

Driving a truck is trickier than a car for a lot of reasons. That said, if that's the bottleneck (and I was just listening to a radio news report that claimed it was, as Gravekeeper asserted, partially because most of the truck drivers are not showing up for work because of various storm-related issues) a solution would be to ship in truck drivers as well as supplies, instead of relying on native ones.

Hey gravekeeper I just wanted to let you know I am also from Puerto Rico and understand you. I finally got some signal not too long ago and been checking in on everything, lie calling or texting friends checking what are the Kate's news etc.. Luckily hurricane Maria didn't do much damage to my home, also bough I was worried the whole time that some of the glass doors would shatter. It's frustrating that even after a week has passed you don't see any progress towards recovery. Like you can't go far since there's no gas and the lines are to get some are extreme like 5 hours in the sun just to get $20.00 worth of gas (although that limits has finally been lifted), it's just extreme. Although the good part about this is that I learned how to live without electricity kids are playing in the streets and I have enjoyed socializing with my neighbors. We just have to continue to survive and adapt to all of this till it slowsly gets better.

4683625 My point is that it's stupid to prevent people from getting food and medical supplies in order to keep them "safe" from unlicensed truck drivers. US federal law didn't even require a commercial driver's license until 1986.

Then something like this happens, and the law passed to keep people "safe" makes people less safe because it doesn't let them do the reasonable thing in unusual circumstances. Then people blame the federal government for "not doing enough", so they pass more laws.

BTW, Gravekeeper, how did you keep your Internet access up to post this? Cell phone?

That's one conclusion one can draw from the situation, certainly. My point is that it's unsound to rely on local resources of an area one knows is smashed up to handle distribution for products one is bringing there because the area is smashed up.

It is like giving someone with a broken leg a stack of casts and asking them to distribute them for you.

Yup, it's been two weeks, and a just a few million people still without contact, many unaccounted for.

Hey Techgirl, I hope you're still doing well, or as well as we can be during these times. I've spent a lot of evenings just sitting out in the front yard with my family and my neighbor, so there's definitely that, and the gas lines in Bayamon are finally dwindling. Still, two weeks in, and only the Metro Area has cell service, it's still so frustrating.

Like ForSpite said, I honestly think FEMA should've just flown in trucks and drivers already, if they haven't yet... It's been two weeks and there's still uncontacted communities! I've been able to use spotty internet on my phone for a few days now, but I can't wander too far without losing signal.

That's a good way to put it. I heard on the radio that all-terrain vehicles had to be used by the military a day or two ago to get to a community up in the mountains, because the roads are still blocked. Some other communities haven't been able to reach the outside world because theyr'e still surrounded by flood waters littered with the decaying bodies of livestock and fowl. The number of confirmed dead is suspiciously low, considering all the people that are still trapped without food, water, or recurring medical attention.

Login or register to comment