How One Puerto Rican Prepared for Irma

Sylvia Forteza lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, September 6, Category 5 Hurricane Irma devastated the US territory. Pictured here is some of the damage from the storm.(Photo used with permission from Sylvia Forteza)

As Category 5 Hurricane Irma traveled over the Caribbean, inhabitants of islands such as Puerto Rico prepared and responded to the hurricane in many different ways. In order to assess the reactions to the catastrophic storm, I interviewed a family member currently living in Puerto Rico about how she prepared for the hurricane. This interview has been translated from Spanish.

Q: Before the hurricane, what information did you know about the storm?

A: Puerto Rico is always very watchful during this season. I was worried, but because we have experienced natural phenomenons in the past, I thought about previous preparations and above all staying informed at all times. You always have to be watchful of the news and make the pertinent arrangements. The first thing we knew, it was a tropical depression on the west coast of Africa at the end of August. This atmospheric system quickly developed into a Category 2 hurricane.

Q:What preparations did you make before the hurricane?

A: The preparations were the following:

  • The first thing to consider, is that where I live is not safe because I have glass windows on all sides. To do this, I tried to protect the most I could, and put my most important things in the safest part of my apartment, which is the bathroom (because it does not have any windows).
  • To collect enough water for drinking and for bathing and washing up for several weeks.
  • I bought batteries for lanterns, and candles as a plan B.
  • I washed all my clothes including the bedsheets.
  • To fill up my gas tank, as well as an extra container as a plan B.
  • Things outside and anything sharp must be secured and put away.
  • To secure medicines and important documents.
  • To have cash on hand.
  • To count on a gas stove or BBQ.
  • To buy canned foods.
  • To have cell phones charged or other means of communication. Importantly, to have emergency numbers available.
  • To have a suitcase with a change of clothes.
  • Pray.

Q: How would you describe the hurricane?

A: This hurricane is disastrous, powerful, and [not like any one] seen before. I never thought it would raise to a category 5. We are calm but very scared. I have seen hurricanes but we have never passed through this type of cyclone. Just leaving my apartment this morning there were already trees down and Irma has not even arrived.

Q: What will you need to do in order to recuperate?

A: In order to recuperate we have insurance that will help us economically to cover damages. The most important thing is our lives and to help the needy. I count on family with any help. Also the recuperation is slow after a phenomenon like Irma, we’re talking about months. Most likely, we will be without power for 4 months and without water for 2 or 3 months.

Q: Have you had an experience with a hurricane similar to this one?

Similar to this one, none. I have passed through hurricane Hugo, George, Andrew, but nothing more than a Category 3.

Although it can be difficult to know what to expect during a hurricane as disastrous as Irma, it is always better to be prepared than to be taken by surprise. Fortunately, Forteza and the rest of her family and friends are safe, partially due to their extensive preparation.


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