Puerto Rico

matthew

I’ve sat through four category 1 hurricanes.  Some folks can sleep during these (Hurricanes Irma and Charlie came early in the morning), but the sounds of debris hitting the side of my house and branches bouncing off my roof kept me wide awake and cringing.  The adrenaline rush kicked into gear again the next morning when I went outside and surveyed the aftermath.  We’ve been luck in that both storms shredded leaves off the trees surrounding my house and dropped branches, but we suffered no significant property damage.

It took several days using hand tools (and with the help of my wife and kids) to clear the yard after Charlie.  I was 45 at the time, and the heat exhausted but didn’t sicken me.  The ten days spent without power were mostly bearable even though the temperatures were in the low to mid 90s during the day.  I did have to be pulled aside by my wife on a few occasions to drink water and eat a bit of food as I began to show signs of heat exhaustion.  Cooking and refrigeration required a lot of extra effort (ice remained scarce until we found a Publix on a buried power line a few miles down the road; coffee water had to be heated up on a grill), and bathing meant cold showers.  And we were fairly lucky in that we had safe water.  Friends of ours scooped water flowing from a water main break to fill their toilet tanks.  Our neighborhood smelled like sewage in the mornings and evenings as the lifting station pumps were out of commission or running slowly on gasoline powered generators.

The power outage for Irma lasted five days, but I was in much worse shape from sleepless nights and heat exhaustion.  I can’t endure as well at 58, and it’s taken a few weeks to recover since the power was restored.  A friend of ours, who lost power for six days, ended up in an ER suffering from a fever and vertigo.  A nurse asked our friend if her power was out.  The hospital had been getting a steady stream of patients worn down by the heat.

So that sucked, but multiply it by 100, and you’ll get a glimpse of what it’s like in Puerto Rico.  We are being told by our president that “community effort” and an attitude of not “expecting to have everything done for them” are required for speedier recovery.  This being said about folks who have survived a category five hurricane, whose homes, if they still exist, have been badly damaged, who haven’t food, medicine, transportation, clean water and a functional sewage system.

Ever try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps while in shock, while suffering from hunger, thirst and extended heat exhaustion?  Ever try to do that without being able to purchase tools and equipment (ATMs shut down, debris-blocked roads, gas shortages, nowhere left to buy a two-by-four)?  Ever try to be effective while wondering whether your life will ever be the same again, while not being able to contact loved ones to let them know you’re alive, while wondering if your son’s asthma medicine (mother’s diabetes medicine, etc.) will hold out until new supplies arrive?

If you agree with the president’s pronouncements about Puerto Rico, then I wish you an equivalent fate to what the Puerto Ricans have suffered.  I’ll look forward to seeing how well you all perform under similar circumstances.  Please show us all the shining example of your determination and grit while standing in a shredded pile of belongings in front of your collapsed house.  I’m waiting to be inspired.

 

 

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No Ice In Orlando

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Hurricane Irma hit us last Sunday evening.  We heard transformers pop once, twice around 7, and then we lost power.  An outer band struck at 10:30 with long lashes of high speed wind and driving rain, and I winced as branches bashed my roof and skylight.  The monster weakened as it came near us, and the wind didn’t pick up much intensity. The eastern wall of the eye passed through downtown Orlando (five or six miles west of us) at 2:30 Monday morning.  I collapsed on my bed at 3:00 and slept through Irma’s parting shot, an outer band that ripped us one more time at 6 a.m.

I began to pick up downed branches and clumps of leaves Monday morning after the wind started to slow down.  I kept looking up to study the trees looming above me.  Folks get killed in the aftermath of a storm when a limb or a trunk suddenly give way.  My daughter and son-in-law joined me in the afternoon after they returned from an emergency veterinary clinic.  (One of their dogs had become ill shortly before the storm hit.)  The day was fairly cool and breezy (thanks Irma), and we got most of it done by four p.m.

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My daughter and her husband went out on a scavenging expedition on Monday evening and found a two pound bag of ice at a Walgreens near a hospital.  The store still had power as the electrical lines nearby had been buried.  Most of Winter Park sweltered in darkness.

I spent the next four days searching for ice.  My wife has a limited diet, and we had to keep certain foods edible.  No grocery, drug or liquor store had any ice, and one clerk told me that the local supplier couldn’t make any more as their plant had no power.  I began to visit 711s and quicky-marts to get ice from soda fountains.  They all charged fifty or 75 cents per cup, and I ended up shelling out a couple bucks a day.

On the last day on which I had to make an ice run, a clerk at a 711 handed me a small grocery bag and told me to fill it with ice.  She charged me a buck for an amount that normally would have cost two.  She smiled at me with compassion as she rang me up, and that went a long way to lifting my spirits.

I had been grateful on Monday that we had been mostly spared.  The rental house next to us had been struck by a fallen tree that grazed the roof, snapped off the power line and damaged an electrical meter, while we remained unscathed.  And we heard reports on our battery powered radios of massive destruction in the Keys, South Florida, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Cuba.  Orlando had gotten whacked hard, but we hadn’t been plowed into the ground and washed away.  But after several days of 90 degree heat, falling asleep covered in sweat, and struggling to cook and refrigerate food, I felt weary and woozy.  And my neighbor in the rental unit acquired a generator on Wednesday that sounded like a growling motorcycle.  He set it up ten feet away from my bedroom window.  When he ran it, we had to choose between leaving the windows open to catch a stray breeze and going insane from the constant rumbling, burbling noise.

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I realized on Thursday that I had symptoms of heat exhaustion.  I felt listless, dizzy enough to slightly veer as I walked, irritable and impatient.  On Friday morning, I had difficulty teaching a drawing class.  My thoughts jumbled, and even when I felt more coherent, my tongue and mind refused to cooperate with each other.  I babbled a few times and had to carefully slow down my speech so that I could think about a concept, choose the right words to express it, make a few edits, and then speak.  Once class had progressed for a half hour, and once I enjoyed enough cool air (the school has the same power line as the hospital and Walgreens) to refresh mind and body, I began to feel good enough to function normally.

I’ve heard some folks criticize the toughness of Floridians following the storm.  We’ve been called whiners and babies who can’t take hardship.  My only response to that is to feel sorry for these compassionless schmucks and wonder what happened to their sense of humanity.  What compels them to attack folks while they suffer?  What makes them feel superior as they sit in comfort far away from downed power lines, roads blocked by fallen trees, tattered roofs and flooded homes?

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The clerk at the 711 still shines as an angel of mercy to me, as does the waiter who kept filling our glasses with ice water when my wife and I took refuge at an Outback after three days eating cold canned food.  And most people I met didn’t whine and complain about anything.  They simply went about their business of cleaning up, going back to work, finding ways of getting through some rough days and nights.