“How I survived the passage of Hurricane Fiona through Puerto Rico locked in a car with my family”

Sanalee Market, a 33-year-old housewife, says that her body still feels anguish. She also says that along with that anguish, she feels a deep sadness and that she has cried so much that her tears “have dried up”.

The woman is no stranger to any of these emotions. She lives in Puerto Rico with her husband, a 30-year-old mechanic, and their 2 babies, one 4 years old and the other 2 months old.

And by second time it has been spared from the direct threat of a hurricane.

Last Sunday, when the hurricane fiona hit the coasts of the US territory as a category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 137 km/h and heavy rains, Sonalee was at home thinking that she would be safe.

He moved to that house, located in a mountainous neighborhood of Aguas Buenas, a small town in the center of Puerto Rico, after having lost everything during the passage of hurricane mariawhich exactly 5 years ago destroyed much of the island.

The floods caused by Hurricane Fiona left more than 2,000 displaced in Puerto Rico. In the image, a residential area in Juana Matos, Cataño. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

On the anniversary of that hurricane that killed nearly 3,000 people and caused billions in damage, you must once again think about how to restart your life.

“With Maria it was hard. Devastating. But like now, never. The suffering that I had on the day of Hurricane Fiona, with my scared children, I still feel today, ”she says in an interview with BBC Mundo.

Like Sonalee, thousands of people have been displaced by the landslides and floods of this cyclone, whose real damage has not yet been calculated.

But for her, numbers are not necessary. This was the night that will remain in her memory forever.

Image of the cloudy sea from the hurricane
Around the entire island river floods were recorded. The cyclone is estimated to have caused unprecedented rainfall. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

the landslide

On Sunday night, at about 10:30 local time, an unexpected odyssey began. Outside it was raining cats and dogs and gusts of wind hit the vegetation.

Land displacement at Sonalee Mercado's house.
Land displacement at Sonalee Mercado’s house. (Photo: SONALEE MARKET)

Her husband and the 4-year-old son slept in the room of the house where they live, while she took care of the baby.

“Then I saw one of my 2 dogs running from side to side and I put the baby in his crib. Suddenly I heard as if something broke. I thought it was the winds but the noise was getting louder and when I look out the window with the cell phone light I see a landslide“, bill.

“I ran to pick up my husband and asleep he asked me what was wrong. And I say: ‘se is collapsing the ground above. Then the house started shaking.

A tree penetrated the window of Sonalee's residence the night Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico.

Sonalee’s husband got up quickly and also ran into the living room to see what she was telling him. He looked out the window the same way, and after walking away, an electric lighting pole slid down from the mountain and embedded itself where he had stood moments before. The man was uninjured.

“That landslide dragged the pole, but we don’t know where it came from. God knows where it came from crawling and entered through the window, ”says Sonalee.

The car

The couple did not think twice, and together with the children they left the residence and tried to transport themselves in their car to a safe place.

“We got on the bus [camioneta] to go to my mother-in-law’s house, which is the closest, but we couldn’t because of the landslide. And on the other side there were landslides. It was impossible to leave and we returned home, ”she detailed.

The next few hours were spent in the car, while outside the hurricane lashed the island. Sonalee recounted his anguish on Facebook. “We need help, I’m with my babies in the car. Help, there is no way out and the collapse is inside my house and the post went through the window, ”she said in a message on her social network profile.

Image in which officials from the Department of the Family are observed visiting Sonalee and the tree that penetrated the window of her residence.
Officials from the Department of the Family of Puerto Rico visited the woman. They gave her a crib for her baby and indicated that they plan to give her electrical appliances. (Photo: PUERTO RICO DEPARTMENT OF THE FAMILY)

His in-laws tried to reach the place and clear the way, but it was dark and the wind made any maneuver impossible without endangering their lives. He contacted the municipality’s Emergency Management Office, but due to the same dangerous situation they could not carry out the rescue.

They didn’t have access [los rescatistas] because I live in the country. The river was coming out, it was impossible. Nope we hadno choice but to shelter in the carsays Sonalee.

“There were landslides everywhere… it was impossible to get out,” he added.

The next morning several neighbors and friends of her husband cleared the way for them to leave.

a new home

The house is no longer safe, so now the family takes refuge in a half-built home that they planned as a future home. The Puerto Rico government agency that deals with family affairs has given him a crib and will soon give him new electrical appliances.

“We are building a house nearby, the structure is up. We got in here,” she recounts.

Image of the residence where Sonalee Mercado is now sheltered.  The floor is not tiled and the windows are covered by panes.
The residence in which the family is now sheltered is still under construction. The government has promised to help them. (Photo: SONALEE MARKET)

At the moment, although the structure does not have slabs and the windows are covered with wood, it is a temporary sleeping solution. And despite the negative experience of the weekend, Sonalee says that now more than ever she wants to finish building her house.

But this does not mean that she is not “frustrated”, “because we achieve everything with sacrifice”.

Added to that frustration is also the trauma, something that will not only accompany her on the steep path of recovering from a cyclone.

It may interest you:

* They investigate eight deaths that would be related to the passage of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico
* Hurricane Fiona: how to help the victims of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic
* Hurricane Maria event ends in distress call for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona

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