Before a hurricane, there is a huge amount to prepare. The list seems never ending and maybe few get every single thing done. Firstly, you need to stock up on drinking water and food for during the hurricane but also for after, since it is not definite when you will be able to leave your house again or when stores will begin operating. This step was a bit difficult for us, because we arrived at the supermarkets and drinking water was completely sold out already. It seems like everyone had panicked and beat us to the punch, or everything was low in stock since hurricane Irma had just passed a week earlier. Secondly, you need to make sure your flashlights are working, as well as your battery powered radio. When the power goes out these will be your best friends. This also proved difficult for us to find, as the supermarkets we went to were all out of batteries and flashlights. Luckily, we had a few that were still working.
The power and water are both turned off by central authorities before the hurricane arrives and remains turned off until the damages around the island have been assessed. The reason for this is to avoid damage and safety hazards once people start wondering around the streets after the hurricane. This is why, thirdly, you need to fill a big 60 liter barrel with water from the faucets, and if Hurricane Maria hits you need way more, but how could anyone have known? This will be your cooking, bathing, and toilet water for the next days when the water is still turned off.
Fourthly, you also need a full gas tank, because gas stations are closed during and usually remain closed for a few days after the hurricane. The lack of gasoline or rather the bad distribution of gasoline around the island would cause major problems after, as we discuss in our blog post about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. If you have a gas stove to use during these days, you also need to make sure you are supplied with a small gas tank for that. If you have a generator, which was only the case for some, you also needed to stock up on diesel for that.
Fifthly, everything and anything that can be destroyed outside needs to be brought inside. At my grandparent’s this consisted mostly of plants, outdoor furniture, outdoor decoration, and anything else lying around or hanging from the walls. We didn’t initially think about this, but lamps and fans need to come down too (we learned this the hard way).
Lastly, it’s best to clean everything in the house, including yourself, before you lose water. It can be days or weeks as was the case with Hurricane Maria before water comes back, so you’re better off doing a proper clean before. After the hurricane, we desperately wanted to clean since water had seeped under the doors and the cleanup process had brought lots of dirt inside, but the scarcity of water made this a last priority. Showering was also pretty scarce after the storm, so take one good one before.
The reality is that most Puerto Ricans didn’t prepare as they should have, including us. We personally didn’t know what to expect and had never had experience preparing for a hurricane before. For a majority of the population, as a lot of people admitted afterwards, they had been more relaxed about Maria because Irma, the hurricane that hit the previous week was announced as a category 4, but caused way less damage than announced or expected. This “boy who cried wolf effect” definitely had an impact on people’s expectations. Perhaps people were also fed up with hurricane prep, after they had just finished cleaning and re-organizing their houses post-Irma. No one had expected such a powerful and destructive hurricane as Maria, and indeed nothing like her had happened in almost the last century.