Thursday, September 28, 2017

Larry Rivera: Hurrican Blog LIVE from Puerto Rico

Larry Rivera (from Puerto Rico)


What can I say. Experiencing a category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 175 mph is not a walk in the park. Though I had seen and survived Hugo 9/18/89, and Georges 9/21/98, this time it seemed like there was some kind of premonition involved. Any hurricane named Maria bearing down on you has got to grab your attention – especially if that is the name of your ex-wife. Maria's wrath, if you will. 

But seriously, a once in a century storm seems to bring people together as no other event can. When you face a life and death situation, it seems to happen automatically without thinking. Your humanity just reacts to the event as it is put to the test.

At 3:30AM, just as the storm was starting to increase in intensity, I went outside my front door to make sure my trusty Coleman 5000 was not getting exposed to any unnecessary rain, which would later curtail its performance. At that precise moment, I heard the unmistakable loud “crack” of wood, and with flashlight in hand, saw a 40 foot tree, which belonged to my front neighbor, come crashing down on my yard and onto my driveway. I was close enough that I could smell the fresh aroma of traumatized vegetation being pummeled by the storm. I ran into the house where it was safe. Then I realized that I was trapped inside my home. I went looking for my puppy dog “Toby”, a 6 month old Golden Retriever who has nothing but love for anyone who approaches him. Dogs sense the moment, and Toby was no different. The whistling wind coming through the storm shutters certainly made him think this was not a normal situation. I kept coming back to Toby for comfort and he delivered every time.

At 4:02AM I still had cellular phone service including Internet, so I set it up as a hot spot and started checking out the storm trajectory in real time. As I logged onto the NOAA web site, I was able to grab this image as the storm slowly churned towards the island:

Yikes! It was coming straight towards me!!! At 6AM I received phone calls from my family and we exchanged information on the conditions, and the fact that everyone was OK. My parents and sister and her family had to move downstairs because a window was about to come down. At 7AM I started texting some friends and sending video via Whatsapp. Then, at 7:04AM, I lost all cellular communications. The infrastructure was down and I was on my own with Toby.

When you take on a storm like Maria, you must be conscious of the pressure building up in your home. There were times I felt my ears pop as the pressure increased due to the storm. To that effect, you must move about continuously checking windows, doors, and other crevasses in the house which could compromise its integrity. If it requires venting, you must do so immediately. As I moved from one room to the next, I also surveyed the condition of the storm shutters and how they were holding up as the storm howled outside.
My house has a garage door, and it just so happens that the largest tree that fell on my property, in this case the drive way, actually protected the door where the full force of the wind could not strike it directly. Then, I proceeded to vent the other side via the kitchen door so that even though it moaned and groaned, the garage door never came down! None of my neighbors shared the same fate.

My house is a corner house, so this is what it looked like, as I was able to take a gander at the destruction when winds finally subsided to “tropical wind” force at 3PM. Not good.

Yep, that's my house on the right, and at left is the debris field of the trees that fell my way.

This is the way the front actually looked like. You can barely make out the garage door at left:

The major culprit.


Have you ever seen paint sandblasted off a wall by a hurricane coming at you at 175mpr? Check this one out!

But this photo is particularly revealing, as it shows the raindrops actually streaking sideways towards the ground!

So at 6:30AM on Thursday the 21st, I emerged with my trusty machete, to begin the arduous task of fighting my way out of this jungle. Soon, some of my neighbors started to realize that if they did not join me, it could take weeks before authorities could finally send a crew to cut though the vegetation and allow access to another 10 houses on my street, including a cul- de-sac which contained 4 houses. We were completely trapped.

My neighbor Jorge told me that his neighbor, Nelson, had a chain saw, and then Teodoro showed up with Rafi, who had an electric Craftman “reach” extension mini chain saw that just needed electricity to operate. That's when I fired up my Coleman, and with an extension cord, we were in business. Ramón, who owns a car dealership, had a magnificent RAM1500 pickup truck, which combined with my 3⁄4 nylon rope, made for quite a combo. Thus, we were able to move the large portions of the trees quickly and efficiently. Teamwork. It took us more than 4 hours to finish the job, and when the first car traversed the section that had been blocked, we all cheered in joy celebrating a job well done. Except for Jorge, these are people I had never met, and I asked myself: why does it have to take a catastrophic event like this to bring us together to fight for one common goal? Who knows.

This morning I got up at 5AM and it was pouring outside. They had forecast a lot of rain so that was not surprising. I went and cleared the storm drains around my house, because the water all collects at a small bridge which Is crucial for at least 75% of those who live in this urbanization of only 59 units. This is what it looked like the day before:

I brought my car and tied the rope to the large piece of tree that was blocking the drainage grill and I pulled it out with ease. With a shovel, I singlehandedly cleared the debris until all the water was flowing normally into the storm drain. Then I took a quick hose shower and got in my car and proceeded to my office and business in San Juan to see what kind of damage was there.
On the way, this is what I encountered:

Before that, I stopped at my parents to check up on them. This is what we could see from the balcony of their house:

When I finally got to my office and opened the door, this is what I was met with!

It looked like a bomb had gone off. 

This window shattered and allowed the wind and rain to trash my office. We quickly covered it with plywood:

I immediately turned to my precious JFK book and document collection, which I had protected in a corner of the office, and YES!, everything was intact! 

When I turned on the router, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had Internet service.

I quickly called some friends and family via Whatsapp, then checked out my emails and answered a couple of emails as well. Tomorrow I shall go back and exploit this and upload this account onto my blog. 

I have nothing else to do right now. There is no electricity, TV, phone service, or water. Only a couple of radio stations. Electricity will take months before it is back to normal. I am surviving on the water contained in my cistern and my generator, which I must run judiciously to save the little amount of gasoline I have on hand. Martial law is in effect from 6 to 6, so I figured I should jot down my experiences of the last couple of days. How is this related to JFK? Who knows, except the fact that we are still here and we live on to seek justice for Lee Oswald and peace for the soul of John F. Kennedy! 

Larry Rivera Friday, 9/22/17