On October 18 just 3 days after my 63 birthday I went to bed knowing a hurricane was coming; it already had a name – Maria.
This was not something new to me; I listened to the news and saw it was a category 3 – I had dealt with a hurricane like that before. Over the years I had absorbed the Disaster Preparedness that the Dominican Government tirelessly distributed and I followed it much as I could. I had food put away for a few weeks and I had a barrel of water plus tons of more water stored in various containers.
I had enough quality candles to light many nights and I had batteries and flashlights ready. I was in a basement apartment so I never bagged my essential stuff as I never even considered I could have water damage. I never protected my computer or other business equipment either.
Outside as I brought in my plants so they would not become projectiles I had to let go as I am just a tenant. I could not change the fact that my landlord had huge trees some of them very old growing very close to the house and there was garbage everywhere; I knew the chicken coop and goat shelter were just pieces of wood and galvanized hammered together and would shatter at the slightest hint of true hurricane force winds. My Dominican landlord is just the sweetest man but as he has gotten older he has been less able to keep up.
During that day in my preparation for the hurricane I saw a book that a Canadian comedienne called Deborah Kimmett had wrote – the title was ‘That Which Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Funnier’. I know her as she is the sister of my brother-in-law – I had already read it – but the tittle really resonated with me this pre-hurricane day and I put it on the table in my living room to read again soon.
After everything I could move was put away – I ate; unplugged all electrical appliances; checked the hurricane’s progress online put both my phones in the living room/yoga room to charge and went to bed. While I was in bed watching a movie on the computer the electricity was turned off island wide and all went dark. I lit a candle in the kitchen – something I do not usually do but this was a weird night I also locked my bedroom door which I never do.
I woke to the most eerie sound; I had heard winds before but this was truly a ghostly evil sounding howl screeching around my windows. The other thing I felt was a popping in my ears – I think that was the air pressure changes. It took me a few seconds to really absorb what was happening – it felt to me like the walls were vibrating in and out and there was a lot of crashing sounds outside. I was hearing a loud smashing sound on my back door. I opened my bedroom door to peak out and all seemed fine. I closed and locked the bedroom door then I pulled an old wheeled desk in front of it but the noise was so extreme I decided to take my lap top and get into my closet as I had heard you should do. My closet did not have a working door so I pulled 2 mattresses over the doorway and grabbed the cover of the outside bigger mattress. Just as I did that – smash – a piece of the chicken coop flew through my bedroom window and it felt like the mattress was being yanked hard out of my hands.
In rapid succession after the window broke; I heard a loud smash in my living room; then my brand new bedroom door with it’s brand new lock flew part way open pushing the wheeled desk out; the lock parts flying across the room. I was so scared by this point I felt nauseous. Thank goodness the desk got jammed against some plastic boxes and another heavier desk and the door could only open about 1/4 of the way.
While this was happening I just huddled in my closet holding on the mattresses for dear life. It seemed like Maria was purposely trying to take the mattress – my last shelter from the stuff flying around in the room – trying to pull it out of my hands.
Water slowly seeped into the closet until I had inches of water on the floor – I had no idea where it was coming from – I just kept piling sheets and blankets on the floor so I wasn’t kneeling in a pool of water. At some point I remember realizing my phones were in the living room – I let them go – no way was I going out into my hurricane filled living room after them!
There seemed to be an ease in the winds (the eye of the hurricane) so I crept out to see what was happening. I saw my solid back door had burst 3 locks and pieces of wood and solar water heaters were on my back balcony and in my yoga/living room. Near the door everything was covered ceiling to floor with bits of dirt and pieces of leaves. There was inches of dirty water on the entire living room/yoga room floor – in fact the only area in the whole house that was dry was part of the kitchen. I just could not believe it – 3 locks burst open like nothing; inches of water on the floor – I stood stunned for a few moments.
At some point I heard my landlord calling out and my neighbor so I thought they were safe. I heard a noise out front and went to look through the louvers on my door. It was a neighbor checking his car – the little I could see with a flashlight in the dark was mind blowing even then. Huge pieces of galvanized roofing bent and twisted into grotesque shapes and big branches everywhere.
Looking into my spare bedroom and bathroom I saw they were flooded with inches of water too – where was all the water coming from? I just closed the door to that!
I knew this was just the eye of the storm so the winds would be coming back. I pushed and shoved a big heavy plastic box of books in front of the back door and then piled other heavy stuff on top.
The back door started to pound on the boxes so I grabbed the phones which were miraculously intact but wet and covered in bits of leaf. As I turned to go back in my room I spotted the book I had put aside ‘That Which Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Funnier’ – the title inspired me and made me giggle at that desperate moment – so I took it with me even though it was damp and covered in debris.
Back in my room I blocked the bedroom door with the small desk again and then moved the large desk right behind it and crawled back into that wet closet just as the howling started anew. I ripped the rest of my clothes down from the hangers and placed them over the wet bedding to try to stay a little dry. It seemed like I spent hours more counting to stay calm and holding on the mattress cover for dear life. I can never for the rest of my life forget that howling and crashing of those hours.
It was still dark when the winds started to die down and I finally thought it was safe to let go of the mattress. My hands were seized in a sort of gripping shape for a while after I let go. I stayed in the closet and napped a bit just in case the hurricane returned and then got up to see what was what. Illuminating the damage with my flashlight I saw that book ‘That Which Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Funnier’ floating in the water. I giggled picked it up off the floor and left it to drip dry then started to move the furniture in front of the door to check out the house. The back door had opened partially again and inches of water lay everywhere except for a few feet of dry floor in the kitchen.
I was so tired I just moved a partially dry mattress to the one dry spot and lay down for a nap till daylight. I got up and went right outside – I only got 2 or 3 feet and I met a 10 foot long piece of galvanize folded like paper into my entranceway. Climbing over it I went outside to see a Dominica that had dramatically changed over night.
Your mind cannot absorb all the changes – I think it shuts down a bit – stops processing – computer brain over load. Every single direction you look the landscape is like it was bombed – and all those buildings you thought were a strong shelter to withdraw to in a storm were roofless or crumbling.
I look up to see my landlord in his bare feet climbing over the broken glass; galvanize roofing and downed trees to cross the street and see what happened to his house. We talked him into going back to the apartment he was sheltering in and waiting till the rains were done. Mr. Hector and Rita’s story is for another time!
It rained very hard The Day After Maria. I went back inside to make tea for Hector and Rita – I started to feel water falling on me and looked up to see long jagged cracks in the ceiling where dirty water was literally raining down. I learned later that the roof of the building was gone.