Surviving Hurricane Maria

The trials and tribulations of our everyday experience. Welcome to the new normalcy. part 1

Renée said: "First came Irma then  that bitch Maria".

Maria hit two weeks after Hurricane Irma so we were already pretty much used to not having electricity but we had water and we had cell phone service and internet. Having water was nice. We have two cisterns which collect rainwater so we actually still have water, after the city water failed— with some caveats.

— click here to see Renée’s list of preparations for the hurricane. She's getting very good at preparing for hurricanes.

“I would have stopped Bill if I knew he was going so far out in the storm, all the way out on the chalet porch. We were safe in our little suite by the new pond. But never tell a man not to take risks as they will do just the opposite and Bill is an old journalist, anything for a story”. Renée said.

Video taken from chalet porch early in the morning while Maria was overhead.

During the storm I went out and got a couple of videos. The next video shows the tremendous rainfall from the storm.

Our first job after the storm was to clear our driveway and private road so that we could get out. We had lots of chainsawing ahead of us.  Maria toppled so many trees along with power poles on our mile long private road that we were trapped. And we couldn’t call anyone either because our cell phone service was out. So for the first three days after the storm we couldn't tell anyone that we survived. We worked together clearing the trees. Bill wielded the chainsaw and Renée removed the branches and logs as each was cut free.

Our dogs looking worried and stress still after the storm.

Our dogs looking worried and stress still after the storm.

Rainforest Inn driveway before and after the storm

Rainforest Inn driveway before and after the storm

“I scouted ahead climbing over the trees and discovered two trees ahead that were much larger in diameter than the blade of my chainsaw. I thought to myself -- should I tell Renée that we may never get out? I was thinking also that even if I could cut through the massive trunks on each side of the road  how would Renée and I move the massive trunks aside?  I was beginning to really feel trapped after I saw those massive felled trees."  Bill said.
Bill standing in the middle of our private road en-meshed inside the felled trees and branches.

Bill standing in the middle of our private road en-meshed inside the felled trees and branches.

Day three after Maria passed

After the storm, we got up made some coffee with the French press (no power for the espresso machine) and prepared to go up and cut more trees trying not to think about the two massive trunks. We knew the city wasn’t coming to rescue us with all the other urgent emergency duties they had -- but then, all of a sudden, we could hear some equipment coming up the road. Sipping our coffee we went out in the driveway to look and were surprised to see our employees, Maribel, Jennifer and her family, and Benjamin our contractor and right behind them on a backhoe loader was our friend Greg and his crew of chain-sawing helpers. They had cleared the whole rest of the driveway all the way down to route 186. Actually they had cleared some of that main road too.  Greg had moved the massive tree trunks aside with his loader. We were free!

“I knew in the back of my mind that Maribel and Jennifer were going to be the first people I saw after the disaster and they were. I also knew that Greg would be the next one with all his resources and his ability to rescue people. And Benjamin we had known since he was a little kid. It was like family coming to rescue us”. Renée said. “I had kind of felt a prisoner in my own home but at least it’s not too shabby being stranded at the Rainforest Inn”.

Day four

View of the surrounding rainforest after the storm.

View of the surrounding rainforest after the storm.

The saga of our generators is complex and long but we will try to make it as short as possible. Because there are so many devices electricity is needed for at our Inn, like pumping the water out of the cisterns and pressurising it for use, that our struggle for electric power was one of our first tasks. The story started with our old propane generator burning out its control panel (this took many attempts at starting and testing before the hopelessness of ever getting that old generator operating again was apparent)  and then our work on preparing a site for a borrowed diesel generator and wiring it in. We had a lot of hopes for this nice diesel unit as started instantly every time it was asked and literaly purred to life.  

“I knew our old propane generator was on it’s last few coughs of power and had ordered a replacement at Antilles Generator. Mainly our problem using it the first two weeks after Irma took out the nearby power lines was getting enough propane delivered. And we have a back-up small diesel generator so don’t worry”. Bill said.
“I felt really bad for Bill up there trying to start the generator. It wouldn’t start and our loaner of a small diesel generator wouldn’t make power so I decided to do something evil. I was going to make chocolate chip cookies with no oven. I made them on the gas stove with a frying pan. They came out kind of funky but we both really liked the treat. When the going gets tough I get cooking.” - Renée said.

We had a couple of 100 lbs bottles of propane that we had filled the day before the hurricane by calling a friend and carrying them to the Rio Grande plant to be filled. But we never got to use them after the large propane tank emptied because of our old propane generator failing. For the next two days we tried to set-up the diesel backup generator. We built a roof over it and asked our friend Kellie for five gallons of diesel to run it. We still needed a special 220 twist plug but no one had one of those. Hardware stores were still not open. We pulled out the wires from the transfer switch for the propane generator and replaced them with a new line going to the small diesel plant.

“I decided to test the generator with a 110 plug because it had some of those standard receptacles too on its front panel. The generator started right up, like always, in a cloud of smelly diesel exhuast. It sounded good and I plugged in the line that I’d wired to one half of our distribution panel (for 110). Looking down the driveway to Renée for her signal and she gave a big thumbs down. No power. I even tried plugging a small test lamp in. Nothing. Our friend Greg had lent it to us not knowing that there was a problem with it.” Bill said.

Every evening our friends Greg and Linda were hosting a small dinner party for friends and neighbours. Friends with closed restaurants brought food from their refrigerators that had to be shut-down as did other neighbours and family. It was a wonderful get together. We went several evenings with Renée preparing an amazing dish contribution using vegetables from our garden. 

I talked to my friend Carlos at the dinner and he offered to come and look at the diesel generator. He helped me work on it for quit  few hours. Right away he pulled off the main panel and we saw many wires that had been cut by someone attempting a repair. We used a volt meter and wired it back as much as possible to no avail, finally concluding that the generator was never going to produce power no matter what we did. Maybe the stator coils were fried.

This is only part one of our hurricane Maria saga. We have lots more to tell. We'd end this with a video of the Roble in our driveway blooming again. The Rainforest Inn is cleaned up too and our rooms and grounds are ready for returning guests. Well we do have to wait a little until the stores are stocked again so we can replenish our pantry for the gourmet breakfasts we are known for. We have our favourite gardener, Laurie Michaels, coming in November and other volunteers who will arrive shortly after to help, not just repair, but make additions and improvements. There is still space for volunteer workers November on. We'd like to thank all he former guests who have offered help too!