Holding On To Home: Puerto Ricans reflect on deciding to stay after the storm

By: Griselda Flores & Sofi LaLonde

We spent a week in Puerto Rico in February reporting about life on the island nearly six months after Hurricane Maria, but found a story that is more complicated and nuanced. This audio diary-style piece features testimonials of three people with very different stories about why they stayed on the island during and after Hurricane Maria, and touches on post-hurricane life, emigration and the colonization of the island. We also asked them what it means to be Puerto Rican in this moment of transition and rebuilding.

Audio in Spanish; English translation available here: bit.ly/2HdlMty

This story was reported by Griselda Flores and produced by Sofi LaLonde. Special thanks to Saybian Torres, Marisol Plard-Narvaez and Ibrahim López Hernández for speaking with us, to Kari Lydersen for her editing help and the Medill School of Journalism.

Six Months After the Storm: How Two Women Navigate Life Post-Hurricane Maria

By: Griselda Flores & Sofi LaLonde

Angie’s Hurricane Maria Experience

“I remember I couldn’t sleep the whole night and day, whatever it was, I don’t even remember like what time it hit and what time it ended. The whole moment is kind of blurry.”

When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, Angie Rosa and her family of four hunkered down in their three-bedroom apartment in Puerta de Tierra, an up-and-coming neighborhood of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, that is experiencing first signs of gentrification. Angie reinforced the apartment’s ocean-facing windows with tape while her husband, Richard, moved their art collection onto their bed and covered it with bed sheets and plastic shower curtains.

The family waited out the hurricane in their sons’ shared bedroom — the safest room in the apartment with the smallest windows. The electricity and water went out before the storm even hit. They waited in darkness.

The Category 4 hurricane winds pounded against Angie’s apartment windows at nearly 155 mph, flexing them in and out so far that they looked like a bubble, she said. Rain seeped into the apartment through the aged rubber window seals as debris slammed against the walls.

Leonides’ Hurricane Maria Experience

About 45 minutes south of Angie’s home in San Juan, in a mountainous town called Juan Asencio in Aguas Buenas, Leonides Maldonado was home with her husband and brother during the storm.

“I brought my brother to my house so he could be here with us since he lives all alone,” Leonides said in Spanish. (Leonides’ interview has been translated from Spanish to English for this story.)

During the storm, Leonides heard something fall outside of her front door. “When I looked outside the window, I saw that an avocado tree had fallen and landed right in front of the door. We also had a van here and that’s what … I get chills just talking about it … so the van moved and landed there. It was on the edge right on top of the road. Ay, I can’t say it.”

Leonides’ house is cushioned between the forested hills of Juan Asencio. The van teetered precariously on the edge of her driveway, above the grassy slope that leads down to the road and the neighboring family’s house.