Hurricane Maria entered Puerto Rico through the town of Yabucoa, which is located two hours east of San Juan. But unlike the capital city which was up and running and welcoming tourists quickly, nine months after the storm, many residents say it’s as if the hurricane never left . While the physical remnants of the storm, uprooted trees, cracked roads and bridges, light poles leaning in the direction of the winds are a testimony of the devastation, the people of this municipality are moving forward. The faith of people here is powerful..
We conducted the interview with Provi in front of a holy spot, the base of La Piedra Blanca, a massive boulder located on top of the highest peak that looks over the verdant valley. The mother of two lives in a three bedroom cement home that is nestled on the side of the mountain. Her home is tucked underneath the massive rock that that soars five stories high.
“I think this rock is our guardian. In the 1960s the only road to go through town was by the rock. In the 1970’s, another road was built and this place was forgotten. I call it “The Silent Rock.”
The eye of Hurricane Maria entered through the municipality tearing up trees, homes, every single light pole, cars, boats, inundating all the farms, and killing wildlife. But La Piedra Blanca, which faces the ocean, withstood powerful winds and tornadoes that came roaring through. From far away the gray polished boulder looks like a giant pyramid. It is reminiscent of the Poynesian Easter Island beachfront statues. The storm cleared trees that covered the boulder exposing a glorious rock and what some locals believe is a giant indigenous zemi, a spiritual sculpture that houses an ancestral spirit.
She said that at the beginning of last year, foreign rock climbers came and desecrated La Piedra Blanca. They made a video and posted it on Facebook.
“They left nails in the rock. Never in my life and in the life of the rock nobody has done that. It was very sad. I feel it was very disrespectful. I am afraid others will come. I said the rock is my guardian, maybe we guard each other.”
Provi explained that weeks before Hurricane Maria arrived she saw something by La Piedra Blanca.
“I saw a row of men and women surrounding the rock a few months before the hurricane. They were holding hands, looking in the direction of the sea where the hurricane came. I tried taking a photo but its blurry. I couldn’t believe my eyes. About a year and a half before, I dreamt about a bad hurricane that was coming toward Puerto Rico but I woke up before I learned when. And then nothing happened so when the hurricane was announced, I felt this was the one. I put a message to my brothers and sisters and told them to watch out.”
Provi was unable to afford storm shutters for all her windows and doors so did what she does best, prayed.
“I prayed to God and to Our Lady, I am Catholic. I looked for all my religious metals and virgin and the Heart of Jesus I put them on the windows, doors, and my cars. “Take care of us and of our things,” I prayed, “We don’t have much.”
She said she closed all the windows and doors and with her daughter and son sat in the living room by her altar, and prayed.
“When “the thing” started to blow, a sound so strong, hours and hours passed, like a drill, when you are making a hole in the wall. The sounds of the wind–we heard voices, my son felt the earth moving, we felt tornadoes, it was like a bomb, like many people were throwing bombs, and bombs, and bombs. It was very impressive. It was here for more than 20 hours — from 6 am on Sept 20th and at 6 am on September 21st we were still feeling those winds.
Hurricane Maria stayed in Puerto Rico for 24 hours.
“We could hear the winds destroying the trees, we heard things crashing, We were aware that there was no water coming in the house. And we knew that at any time the doors and windows would fly off.”
When she stepped out 7 am the next day, feeling safe that the winds were lowering their speed, she opened the door and saw the once lush green valley gone.
Some people described the day after the storm as total devastation. Provi saw something else.
“We were purified. All mother nature, all the trees–there was nothing, nothing, nothing. I said thank you God, you saved our lives. Around my house we have a big forest and that day there was nothing.”
When asked what one word she would describe Hurricane Maria she said: teacher.
And the lessons she said are not just for Puerto Ricans but for the world.
“Our God is sad because we have forgotten about him. We are just surviving. We have very busy lives. We don’t stop to talk with him to do what he wants us to do–to have a simple life, to spend more time with our families, with our children. There is so much automation, so much technology making everything easy, and we want more and more. We are not pleased with a cell phone, we need the latest model. We have to be more humble, take time to look at nature, to appreciate what we have on our planet, a planet we have devastated. We have to start taking care of our plants, talk with our plants, say thank you for the food they give us, and teach our children and grandchildren. I see fast food restaurants full. People don’t make dinner at home anymore. I don’t think we can survive many years like this. Human beings feel like they don’t need God. Many people have created many things now they they think that they are the gods.”
Now, with no electricity at night we look at the stars and the moon and we are talking again about the lost tales. We play dominoes. We are like it was in the beginning.”
*Provi Davila Torres is Rebecca Gitana Torres’s cousin, They did not know each other. Like many families divided by immigration, the storm reunited them. She was not supposed to be part of the story, but Provi’s testimony was too powerful to keep it just with us.
Words: Sandra Guzmán
Photos: Sandra Guzmán & Rebecca Gitana Torres