Hurricane leaves misery in its wake
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
Restaurant Captain Cook on Cofrecito Beach was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed over Bavaro, Dominican Republic.