Salinas.- Despite the intense rains and winds produced by Hurricane Fiona, at the residence of Betzaida Ortizin the Playa neighborhood, in Salinas, everything seemed to be going well, so she went to sleep next to her husband. However, at about 12:30 am, the 46-year-old woman woke up and, when she set foot on the ground, her house was completely flooded. The water, she described herself, was up to her ankles.
“We got up, took things and when we went outside, our cars were also full of water… we lost everything”lament.
Ortiz managed to leave his residence with the help of the Puerto Rico National Guard (GNPR) and personnel from the Salinas Municipal Emergency Management Office (OMME), who rescued hundreds of people in the Playa, Playita communities during the early hours of the morning. , Villa Esperanza, Las Ochenta, Las Trinitarias and Coquí.
“It has been a traumatizing thing, because if I didn’t get up at that moment, maybe I would get up full of water”he expressed. “When I called my sister, she told me that she had prayed for me five minutes ago, so I think my sister’s prayers lifted me up.”
For Ortiz, losing everything to the hurricane is starting from scratch, literally, since it was only a year and a half ago that he returned to Puerto Rico from Pennsylvania. In addition to his vehicles, he bought belongings and furniture, which today are rubble.
“We already had everything (after moving) and, in the blink of an eye, we lost everything… I don’t even know how to feel because it’s something inexplicable. You lost everything, and what about us now?”, he asked himself.
Ortiz and her husband remained since 1:00 am in the shelter set up at the Carlos Colón Burgos school, in Salinas, where they were placed in a room with several families.
This is the only active refuge in this coastal municipality, since it is the safest, according to the mayor. Karilyn Bonilla. As of 11:00 am, 287 people were sheltered, but the number rose to 400 earlier.
What is lived in the shelter
Although Ortiz claims to be calm, she considered that the city council and the state government were not adequately prepared to receive hundreds of people, especially the elderly and minors. In fact, this medium witnessed the moment in which officials from the Department of the Family separated three girls from her foster carer, allegedly for her safety.
“You have to make sure that before people are rescued, the shelters are ready. Right now the toilets cannot be used. They have to deal with these things because it is not easy “Ortiz noted.
From room to room in the school, the faces of the refugees conveyed concern, but also hope. Some chat with new friends and others care for their pets while weather conditions allow them to return home.
Luis Daniel Cruz Negron, 47, also arrived at the shelter after being rescued by the GNPR. He lives alone and the water took over his residence located in the San Felipe neighborhood, which is located between Guayama and Salinas.
In his opinion, what caused the hurricane is something never seen before in this area, even when the situation is compared to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the country in 2017.
“What I brought (to the shelter) was a sheet, a perfume and two medicines”described. “What I’m waiting for is for the rain to stop so I can go home… I expected nothing more than wind, but it rained very heavily.”
A similar situation occurred Minerva Monge70 years old, who along with her husband was also rescued by GNPR officers this morning, since the water reached her knees.
Within 20 minutes, she said, she was being transported to the shelter aboard a GNPR truck, but her pet stayed behind, she lamented.
“What I hope is that everything calms down, the place dries up and we can return”he stated.
The rescue operation
stories like the ones The new day found in the refuge are repeated along the coastal zone of Salinas, assured the mayor, estimating that nearly 2,000 residences were affected by the floods.
He assured that the task of reaching the people who were trapped was not easy, since the Nigua River burst its banks and the storm surge dragged the water to the residences in some communities.
While some people turned to social networks to request a ransom, others launched flares, with the aim of being spotted by the authorities.
“We had to carry out a titanic operation to rescue people who were in completely flooded areas. Refugees tell us that they have been living in some communities for 60 years and an event of this magnitude had never happened before”, told the municipal executive.
Bonilla, who also previously headed the Emergency Management and Disaster Administration Bureau (NMEAD), indicated that Hurricane Fiona is one of the toughest experiences he has had to manage.
“After we finish the response and do not lose a single life, which is what we are looking for, we will begin the process of helping and assisting families,” advance.
For its part, Carlos Reyesdirector of the Guayama area of the NMEAD, indicated that Salinas is one of the municipalities with the most refugees in the southeast of the country.
In Santa Isabel, for example, the number barely rises to 73 and in Guayama to 48. In both municipalities the situation that is repeated is the streets obstructed by trees and debris.