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What Life Is Like Without Power For This Puerto Rican Dad

"Imagine being in your home. It doesn't have to be anywhere in particular. But all of the sudden, everything just gets picked up and thrown away."

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Hector Sanz lives and works in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with his two children. Before hurricanes Irma and Maria, he worked for a food services company that delivered food all across the Caribbean to resorts and hotels. After the hurricanes, he still worked there, but he started serving a very different clientele: the people on his island, who were without homes, electricity, gas, or even water.

Irma and Maria changed far more than the scope of his work; they changed his entire world. After the one-two punch of the hurricanes in September, the island was in dire straits. Hector’s home lost power and didn’t regain it until the last week of December. The school that his children attend also lost power; it didn’t get it back until early February. To keep them safe and in school, he sent his kids to North Carolina where they lived with his ex-wife and attended school there for a semester. Hector meanwhile stayed behind working 12 to 14 hour days, picking up government contracts and trying to help the island stand upright.

In short, this has been one of the most trying stretches in Hector’s life. He spoke to Fatherly about the hurricane, the aftermath, and the long road ahead for his country and his family.

Imagine being in your home. It doesn’t have to be in the Caribbean Islands. It doesn’t have to be anywhere in particular. But all of the sudden, everything just gets picked up and thrown away. And then you’re there, trying to figure out what happened, and how it happened, and how you’re going to fix it without having the necessary tools to do anything.

Hurricane Irma hit two weeks before Maria. The British Virgin Islands got ravaged. The electricity grid was down and it’s still down today, only operating at about 60 to 70 percent. I work for a food service company out of San Juan so I depend on my income from that business. So after Irma, everything was chaos for me. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the future, what steps I needed to take to be able to provide for my kids, and my child support. But I did still have a few customers.

Then came Maria, two weeks later, on the 20th of September. The force was just unbelievable. I saw a cell phone tower, just 200 feet from where I was, get ripped out of the ground and fly away. The house started flooding, so we put the kids in the bathroom just to make sure that they were safe. They were really anxious, their mom was anxious, and I was just trying to keep calm. Somebody had to hold everything up.

Imagine being in your home. It doesn’t have to be in the Caribbean Islands. It doesn’t have to be anywhere in particular. But all of the sudden, everything just gets picked up and thrown away.

After the hurricane passed, around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, the streets were chaos. Trees were out of the ground, lightning poles, electricity poles, tables, pieces of houses. It was just like a bomb went off. There was no green anywhere. Everything looked brown and sad, and not the way the island usually looks.

We grabbed machetes and started clearing paths for us to be able to visit our relatives and do what we needed to do. We spent about a day and a half chopping down trees in our path.

The problem is, there was such a big crisis after Irma. Because of Irma, we sent a lot of our own food, water, and first aid supplies to the Caribbean. Then when Maria hit, our inventory was really low. There was chaos in the streets because gas stations were barely operating. There was not enough water. There were lines at the gas station for 10 to 12 hours. Our warehouse was down on inventory very rapidly, trying to provide food for whoever was operating, to feed the population because nobody could cook in their houses.

Two weeks after the hurricane, we decided to ship our kids to Charlotte, North Carolina, to go to my sister’s house with my ex-wife, the mother of my children. My kids’ school didn’t have a generator and were already without electricity from Irma. We hadn’t seen any progress or any stabilization. They went to school there for the semester. After they left, I was completely depressed. My work I’ve done for the past decade was gone. My kids leaving left a big hole, too. So I just jumped into work.

It’s so frustrating. Once you have kids, everything changes. You want them to be comfortable and happy. Sometimes, I pick them up from school, and they’re not so down, but they’re definitely different.

Help started coming from the mainland United States. FEMA and Army Corps of Engineers started bringing in catering companies to provide food for the brigades. At first, they were supposed to be here for 45 days, then 60 days, then 90 days. Now, they’re saying that they should be here for about five years.

My kids came back to Puerto Rico in December after their semester ended. They’re here now, but they wish they were there. There’s a lot of stuff going on here. There are still street repairs, traffic lights that aren’t operating. It’s all chaotic.

I didn’t get power in my house until December 27th, two months after Maria. At first, my kids went about three weeks without any school at all. Then the school worked with battery-operated lanterns and lamps, and then they rented out a generator. They just got actual power — not on a generator — two weeks ago in early February.

It’s so frustrating. Once you have kids, everything changes. You want them to be comfortable and happy. Sometimes, I pick them up from school, and they’re not so down, but they’re definitely different. They get their hopes up — Well, maybe today we’ll get electricity; well, maybe today everything will get a little better and a little bit back to normal. They’ve spent the past four or five months like that.

It’s frustrating to see my kids like that. You try to keep them under this umbrella. But they see all this chaos, and they see the news, and they hear all these people talking. We have family members who still don’t have electricity. It saddens them, and it harms them.

And although we have electricity, the situation is very sensitive. They are fixing the immediate problem so people can have power back, but the poles need to be fixed completely. It’s going to take a long time to not just get power back, but then re-do the whole process with better materials.

It’s frustrating to see my kids like that. You try to keep them under this umbrella. But they see all this chaos, and they see the news, and they hear all these people talking.

I have mixed feelings about the response to the hurricane. On the one hand, I am grateful that we have access to a system that did kind of help. There are places in the world that do not have that. A hurricane hits Haiti or the Dominican Republic, and they’re screwed. That being said, I am a little bit frustrated, because for example, I was in Ponce, a city on the South Coast, and they have one of those camps subcontracted by Duke Energy that serves people three meals a day. The government didn’t allow Duke to bring their own materials. Maybe things would have moved way more quickly than they are right now. When you have 1.5 million people, the elderly and children that need to be taken care of, in the mainland, they would have attacked that problem immediately.

When you have your president throwing paper towels at people who are without homes, it just makes matters a little bit worse.

— As told to Lizzy Francis