Hurricane Maria reached Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. It brought violent winds, destruction, and insecurity. But it also took many things. It took power and other necessities - about 11,000 people are still without power; it took lives - recent estimates show the death toll from the storm and aftermath nearing 4,600; it took security - the 175 mph winds destroyed the livelihoods of many inhabitants; it also took part of my heart after I experienced the aftermath firsthand. Several months ago, I was privileged to tag along with Bruce and his crew from AmeriCorps as they assessed the needs of families in the central part of Puerto Rico. We saw tremendous damage, especially to the electrical infrastructure throughout the hillside community, Lares.
I visited a family whose roof had been destroyed. AmeriCorps was there to help them rebuild. During the construction, a neighbor came to investigate the commotion. I will never forget Mrs. Mercado. I remember her hiking up the hill to us and how pleasant she was. She introduced herself and told the story of how she lost power and water to her home. Fortunately, the power crew was in the middle of restoring electricity to her home. She had come let us know there was still no water. I remember admiring her for taking the initiative to come and seek help to restore her life to normal.
Her beautiful silver hair and rosy red cheeks were tempered by blisters standing out underneath her eyes. I asked about her husband and discovered something else the storm had taken. She explained how she had been taking care of him prior to the hurricane. Together, they struggled to cope with his respiration infirmities. They relied on a medical breathing device the hospital prescribed to him. Tragically, once Hurricane Maria knocked out the island’s power, her husband’s health steadily declined until she lost him. At this point I realized why she had blisters under her eyes: the constant wiping away of tears.
I barely kept my emotions under control and wished we could have arrived earlier to provide a power source to help her husband. Mrs. Mercado taught me firsthand that power is life.
My heart broke in the hillside community of Lares, but I left with a greater resolve to help provide power to Mrs. Mercado and the hundreds of millions of others like her throughout the world.