Our Mental State and Survival Mode Post-Hurricane Maria

Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras- The travel insurance just gave us bad news- 22.09.2017

After about five days of survival mode we were completely exhausted. It hit us that the insurance wouldn’t pay for us to leave, at the same time it felt like we couldn’t do much for Puerto Rico because of the lack of gasoline (I had looked at volunteer opportunities for the hurricane clean-up process, but they all would have involved steady access to gasoline). It felt like we just had to stay inside and conserve our energy since it was hot, we couldn’t drink as much water as we liked, or eat as much either. We felt useless. We were also mentally exhausted and quite negative. Each day we spent hours queuing in the heat trying to fulfill one errand such as getting gasoline, withdrawing from an ATM, or searching for drinking water. On top of that we were worried, what if we couldn’t find drinking water in time? What if the gasoline supply stopped entirely? What then?

Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras- Neighbours discussing possibilities: the gasoline canisters are still empty and Pitorro (local rum/spirit) bottles are getting empty. – 23.09.2017

We thought about whether we should really make an effort to get off the island. This was a long and never ending debate. We also thought about the different ways to leave the island (although there didn’t seem to be many options if any) … At first, I felt like we should stick it out with the Puerto Ricans, remain solidary, and help the best we could until our flight off the island about one month later. In this way, we could have also kept track of any slow improvements on the island or deteriorations, and conserved our firsthand experience with the crisis. This seemed like the most noble way to finish the trip to me. Zsiga had a more practical approach. We didn’t know when drinking water or gasoline would actually become easy to access. We were also a burden to my grandparents who could have survived longer off of the supplies we had without us. With four people the supplies were depleting too quickly, and the worsts part was the conditions on the island seemed to be only getting worse. Five days post-hurricane, the lines at every establishment were longer and more gasoline stations had actually closed than opened. Even if we wanted to leave the island though, there was a shortage of flights. Thousands of people were sleeping and queuing at the airport in the hopes they could get onto a plane and off of the island. At the time, there were only about 10 flights leaving a day and priority obviously went to flights off for supplies and skilled help to rebuild the island (Ex. Electricians, doctors, engineers, etc.). This situation with the airport didn’t seem like it was stabilising either.

Puerto Rico, Trujillo Alto- Aunt Denise cooking for the whole family on a small camping gas stove- 22.09.2017

When we thought we had no choice but to lay low for a month and hope to get the survival materials we needed, something happened that no one had expected. My grandmother received a call from a friend offering 4 spots on a humanitarian cruise ship leaving the island and dropping the passengers off in Miami, Florida. Even though we tried to convince my grandparents to get on that boat, they insisted they couldn’t leave their property on such short notice. The cruise ship was to set sail two days later. My grandparents wanted us and my cousins to get on the boat and head to the States. We took hold of the opportunity (sent by, it felt like, some angel watching over us), and got on the cruise ship.

Puerto Rico, Trujillo Alto- Passing the time with dominos- 22.09.2017

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