Vieques, PR - September 2017 - Chapter 3 - Hurricane Maria Approaches

Crazy; that's the best way to explain this house sitting assignment in Vieques Puerto Rico. This is the fourth consecutive year I've been here, so I've seen and experienced a lot on the island, but this trip, by far was the most exciting.

First, we dealt with hurricane Irma (posted earlier) then hurricane Maria. This posting and one that will be published next Tuesday will cover my experiences with Maria.

Hurricane Irma track
Hurricane Maria track

As many of you know, while traveling, I like to ‘live like the locals’ and on this house sitting assignment, I truly did that. What an adventure.

Recapping my previous post, I arrived a couple days before hurricane Irma so the home owners could get their vacation started. Well, they did but Irma arrived early, so J and Lisa had to stay in San Jose PR for a few days before heading to their final destination.

With Irma taking a more northerly track we dodged the brunt of the storm we did get hit; Only sustaining tree damage and lost electricity for about 10 days.

After a couple days of cleanup from Irma, we got word that hurricane Maria, had told Irma, ‘here, hold my beer, let me show you how this is done in Puerto Rico’.

Halting our hurricane Irma cleanup efforts, we refocused and started preparing for the arrival of Maria. Several loads of debris was moved to the dump, windows and doors were re-secured, plants and smaller objects were taken back inside, and larger objects tied down.

Now all we have to do is wait…

Hurricane Maria was scheduled to arrive on 20 September about 1000 hours (10AM). When I awoke on 19 September, the wind was blowing about 25-30mph, accompanied by a few outer bands of rain. After making a final check the Esperanza Inn, I sent J and Lisa an email with an update on the house, inn, and my decision to have Ryan and Corina stay at the house. At 0930, the electricity went out. The wind steadily increased and in between bright blue skies the rain bands continued to move through.

As mentioned in my previous blog posting, I had met Ryan and Corina, a young British couple also housesitting on Vieques. We have become friends and with hurricane Maria expected to hit as a category five, I made a decision that we would all ride the storm out in the house I was sitting. After completing their final preparations and packing they arrived about 1500 hours.

The below pictures of the house I was sitting were taken a couple days before Maria's arrival.

Just before dark, we had winds blowing just short of hurricane force (74mph) and the rain was fairly steady. Putting their luggage and supplies in the house, we talked about what to expect, our ‘safe room’; a room considered to be the strongest, usually an interior room with minimal windows.

Now with even worsening weather conditions, we retreated inside the house where we brought out the Scrabble board and began playing by candlelight, before changing to flashlights. While playing we talked and one question that will stay in my head for a while came from Ryan or Corina; “what do people do at a hurricane party?” We’d all heard a few references to hurricane parties as we were preparing for both Irma and Maria. My response was something to the effect, “…we’re doing it now, minus the heavy drinking. Many people take this time to sit around, drink, tell stories, get drunk, and talk about the stupid shit their going to do when the full force of the hurricane hits. We are not going to get drunk, or do anything stupid, that’s how people get injured and killed during hurricanes”.

As we played, our conversation turned to more specifics concerning our safety in riding out the storm. Don’t stand near windows or doors, don’t go outside, keep your shoes nearby, always stay together, and in my mind the most important stay calm.

Approaching 2200hours, the wind was now blowing at an estimated 80-90mph which puts Maria at cat 2. Knowing what was to come, we decided to put the game away, and try getting some sleep. I suggested they take the bedroom, while I would remain in the living room where I would monitor the progress and alert them if we need to go to the safe room.

Let me interject here why I decided to stay in the living room. It room was largely based on my background with hurricanes. I grew up in Florida and had prepared for, experienced, and cleaned up after storms as high as category three. My parents made sure their children were all aware of what to expect from, and the destruction done by hurricanes, the things needed before, during, and after.

After pulling the sofa away from the windows, I lay listening to the wind and rain. As the winds increased, now howling through the house, I heard the tin roof covering the deck below the windows coming loose and flopping in the wind; time to get away from the living and dining room windows. Moving into the safe room, to avoid the possibility of broken glass, the wind soon became strong enough to rattle the front French door, my thoughts turned from tin coming through a window to a double glass door coming off. Not only would the loss of the door allow massive amounts of rain in, it could also result in flying obstacles inside the house; both scenarios are unacceptable. I grabbed an extra rope and tied the door shut to an interior 12 inch pillar and returned to the safe room.

About 0100 (20 September) Ryan came from the bedroom to find me in a lounge chair in the safe room. Although I couldn’t see his eyes, he had a concern in his voice asking me if everything was okay, to which I responded we’re getting close to a category 5 hurricane and we’d be getting the worst in about an hour or so. I explained that I was in the safe room because of the loosing tin roof and the rattling French door. Ryan returned to the bedroom.

With wind howling through the house, and rain being blown through the Miami Hurricane windows, and French doors steadily thumping, Ryan and Corina came into the safe room shortly after 0200. Corina explained that Ryan had told her I was in the safe room and noticing the sudden increase in wind, they decided to join me. We sat there talking about things from our past housesitting experiences to what we could expect when the sun came up.

Between 0330 and 0430, things had calmed down greatly and Ryan and Corina returned to the bedroom.

As the wind abated, I got about an hour of sleep and as the sky started turning light around 0600, I went to survey the third bedroom, living room, and dining room/kitchen. Stepping into the bedroom all was secure and in the living room there was some water by the large window. As I made my way to the large window in the dining room, I found more water and it had spread about 2 inches deep throughout the dining room and kitchen. Next task, mop up the water, coffee would have to wait for lighter winds as the burner on the gas grill would keep being blown out.

With the storm all but gone, we went outside to check the damage around the house I was sitting, the proceeded to check on the house the Britts were sitting, and finally to check the Esperanza Inn.

You've been introduced to Hurricane Maria, now check back next Tuesday (31 October 2017) to see why you don't invite a hurricane to a party.

Until next time, travel safe

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