Ten weeks after the Category 4 Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, half of the territory’s 3.4 million residents are still without power. Joe and Bev Fitzpatrick, PCA Mission to the World missionaries there, were very helpful in showing me around for a WORLD cover story on Puerto Rico (Dec. 26, 2015), so I asked them how they’re getting along—and they were able to respond on Monday after their “newest bundle of joy arrived—our long-awaited generator.” Here is Bev’s report. —Marvin Olasky
Fifty percent of us are still without power. In the San Juan Metro area, where we live, that also means that many traffic signals are not functioning. In my opinion, a few intersections seem to work better without lights, but the added concentration needed to maneuver through busy traffic can take a toll. And it’s dark at night without street lights.
As for life at home, there are varying degrees of impact, mostly based on personal resources. Some folks, once they could find fuel, got their whole house up and running on a generator. Others, especially in rural areas, were plunged into the 19th century and are still without running water, electric, or cell phone service. If you add impassable roads or bridges and fewer options for obtaining supplies to the mix, it remains a critical situation. Church and civic groups are assisting government agencies in reaching these areas, but as one elderly woman lamented, “The dark nights are the worst.”
Our home is somewhere in between—we have running water but for two months did not have power. Nights are hot. Three weeks after the storm we finally received the battery-operated fans we had ordered after Hurricane Irma. It felt like Christmas morning. Thankfully, we had lights and fans during the daytime by way of an extension cord to the generator of our neighbor. Most everyone would say that they are better acquainted with their neighbors after Maria. In those first days of isolation—no power, water, cell service, or internet—we stuck together in our newly formed club of survivors.
A month after the storm, my son and I went to Delaware to stay with my sister while catching up with his schooling. Joe stayed at home and continued in camping mode. He ate nuts, eggs, oatmeal, and protein bars, and he hung out at the seminary where he teaches. (They returned to classes two weeks after the storm, even without power.) Due to the scarcity of emergency items on the island, I sent him a Coleman stove along with solar chargers and lights. And I bought and sent the generator with hopes for its speedy arrival. Upon my return to Puerto Rico a few weeks ago, it still hadn’t arrived. Joe remarked that he had finally stopped his futile flipping of light switches as he entered a room. Some habits are hard to break.
Life without power takes more money, time, and energy than we anticipated. Fuel for a generator costs more than our former high electric rates. Textured washboards are being sold in the street to wash clothes by hand. Many businesses are still only taking cash. Meal prep takes more creativity. Ice can be hard to find. But there is a silver lining in the camaraderie that we’ve had with others, whether a conversation while waiting in a long line (no phones!), someone offering the use of their cell phone on the street (ours didn’t work for weeks), or worshipping at church with our sometimes weary but always welcoming church family. Churches and stores are providing rest stations where people can charge their phones or access the internet. I even saw a photo of a woman blowdrying her hair while at the mall.
Actually, none of the inconveniences we’ve had compare with the sadness of losing friends who’ve moved to the states. With some public schools still not open and services curtailed or unavailable—medical specialists are moving also—we understand. We now have our own decisions to make regarding the welfare of our teenager.