Hur­ri­cane leaves mis­ery in its wake

Sunday Tribune - - NEWS -

THE WINDS had eased, the de­bris was no longer fly­ing through the air, the chaos had sub­sided. El­iz­a­beth Ser­rano Roldan de­cided to lie on her bed and rest. In her gated, mid­dle-class com­mu­nity in the sub­urbs of San Juan, Puerto Rico, it ap­peared Hur­ri­cane Maria had fi­nally passed. Then came the wa­ter. It was murky, and sud­den, and it flowed into Ser­rano Roldan’s home with fe­roc­ity. Need­ing a wheel­chair to get around, she was ma­rooned on her mat­tress – her 82-year-old mother was sim­i­larly trapped nearby – as the wa­ter rose. Her bed had be­come an is­land. There was no way out and no one heed­ing her pleas for help.

“We called and called and called,” Ser­rano Roldan said. “They promised to come and noth­ing hap­pened. It kept ris­ing and ris­ing and ris­ing.”

She looked to the three crosses hang­ing over her bed, the paint­ing of the Vir­gin María on the wall. And she prayed. No storm had ever done this here.

Neigh­bour­hoods like this one across Puerto Rico have be­come dis­as­ter zones, the 160km is­land cov­ered in de­tri­tus, de­struc­tion and de­spair. As of Thurs­day afternoon, more than 24 hours af­ter the strong hur­ri­cane’s eye had cleared out, the scope of Maria’s dam­age was still un­known. Much of the US ter­ri­tory re­mained with­out power – and could lack elec­tric­ity for months. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions were, in many places, non-ex­is­tent.

The in­for­ma­tion that did trickle out on Thurs­day in­cluded im­ages of downed power lines, caved-in build­ings and streets blan­keted in choppy brown wa­ter. Roofs in San Juan were torn apart, leav­ing the in­te­ri­ors open to the el­e­ments. Enor­mous trees were pulled from the ground by their roots and forests were stripped of their leaves.

Stark im­ages and grave news also emerged out of other is­lands bat­tered by Maria. Do­minica’s prime min­is­ter Roo­sevelt Sk­er­rit said at least 15 were con­firmed dead and 20 were miss­ing in the wake of the storm.

In Le­vit­town, one of the largest planned com­mu­ni­ties in Puerto Rico, flood­ing was trig­gered af­ter au­thor­i­ties opened the gates to the Rio de la Plata, in the cen­tre of the is­land, to bring down wa­ter lev­els.

The ac­tion caused an ar­ti­fi­cial lake to over­flow on Wed­nes­day, flood­ing the com­mu­nity of thou­sands and trap­ping res­i­dents in their homes.

On Thurs­day, emer­gency teams res­cued dozens of res­i­dents, tak­ing them to nearby shel­ters. But many more re­mained stuck in their homes with lit­tle cell­phone re­cep­tion, some of them wait­ing on their rooftops.

More than 30 neigh­bours rushed to Ser­rano Roldan’s house. The neigh­bours, many of them el­derly, needed to find higher ground, and the home was the only one on the block with a sec­ond floor. The women wel­comed them.

As the neigh­bours sought refuge in the three small rooms up­stairs, along with their five dogs, Ser­rano Roldan stayed down­stairs, in her bed. She has spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy.

With the wa­ters swiftly ris­ing around her on the first floor, she prayed: “Thy will be done.”

In front of her, sleep­ing on a lower bed, even closer to the ris­ing wa­ter, was her mother Anna Roldan, weep­ing.

“I couldn’t leave her alove,” the mother said.

As the sun rose, the wa­ter be­gan to slowly pull away, al­low­ing the neigh­bours to start fil­ter­ing back to their homes. Res­i­dents as­sessed the dam­age. Many found all of their be­long­ings – their fur­ni­ture, their cars – de­stroyed.

The flood­ing was a shock to Le­vit­town res­i­dents, not only be­cause it was un­ex­pected but be­cause it was un­like any­thing the neigh­bour­hood had ex­pe­ri­enced.

It is the largest hous­ing devel­op­ment in the Toa Baja mu­nic­i­pal­ity, and his­tor­i­cally, it had been con­sid­ered safe from hur­ri­canes. Res­i­dents across Le­vit­town said their homes had never be­fore flooded.

By mid­day on Thurs­day, some of the neigh­bour­hood’s most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents still hadn’t found a way out of their wet, dam­aged homes.

Ser­rano Roldan sat in her door­way in her wa­ter­logged, in­op­er­a­ble wheel­chair. She was stuck, sweat­ing in the hu­mid, wet home, with a ban­dage wrapped around an open vein on her right wrist.

The grey-haired wo­man, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Puerto Rico, was re­cently di­ag­nosed with bron­chi­tis and sep­sis. Be­fore the storm made land­fall, she had been re­ceiv­ing IV treat­ment from a home nurse. She des­per­ately needed to be taken to a hos­pi­tal but could no longer make calls on her land­line.

Her mother, who has se­vere arthri­tis, walked slowly through the first level of the home, as­sess­ing the dam­age. In the bed­room, where Ser­rano Roldan’s but­ter­fly col­lec­tion lines the walls, al­most ev­ery­thing was lost. All of their clothes, dressers, bed­ding, all of the ma­chines Ser­rano Roldan uses to get around on a daily ba­sis, soaked.

“Oh my God,” the mother said.

Thurs­day hap­pened to be her 82nd birth­day. – Wash­ing­ton Post

PIC­TURE: AP

Res­tau­rant Cap­tain Cook on Cofrecito Beach was de­stroyed when Hur­ri­cane Maria passed over Bavaro, Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

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