PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — With Hurricane Fiona causing problems in Puerto Rico, Pensacola resident Kairym Lisch is finding herself once again worrying for family and friends still living on her native island.
“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, then left when I was 17 to go to college in the U.S.,” Lisch said. “I have lived through many hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and still live through them through my family as they are still there. We get all the insights of the devastation and the recovery that happens.”
Growing up, Lisch remembers responding to hurricanes differently than anywhere else in the world.
“We see the devastation, but it brings us together as a community,” Lisch said. “I remember losing power two to three weeks at a time as a little girl, and back then, everybody didn’t have generators. So, everybody would build big bonfires, we would grill our meats, swim in each other’s swimming pools to wash off and people would bring their instruments and play music. It’s a bittersweet moment for us as Puerto Ricans because it brings us together. Everything is a celebration because we are still alive, but the sun will rise again and things will get fixed.”
Fiona dumped roughly two feet of rain on parts of Puerto Rico before blasting across the eastern Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Swelling to Category 4 force, the Hurricane Fiona was on a track to pass close by Bermuda early Friday and then hit easternmost Canada early Saturday.
“Hurricane Maria was a big shocker for everyone on the island. So, they felt like if they could face Maria, then they could face Hurricane Fiona,” Lisch said. “They didn’t expect the turnaround of how much water it was going to drop on the island. It dropped over two feet of water on the southern part of the island, which is the driest part of the island. So, everybody is taking matters into their own hands. They aren’t waiting for the government to do anything for them. They are going out into the street, businesses are back in action with generators and they are encouraging citizens to come in and charge their phones and laptops.”
Compared to Hurricane Maria five years ago, one big difference, Lisch said, is they did not lose mass communication during Hurricane Fiona.
“We were dark for three whole days with Hurricane Maria,” Lisch said. “This means no phone calls, no Facebook or emails. This year, at least we were able to speak with our loved ones over the phone quite frequently. We got footage right on the spot, as it was happening. It was a different experience. I think everybody was prepared to show the world what really happens during a hurricane in Puerto Rico and after.”
One big difference between dealing with a hurricane in the United States and Puerto Rico is a difference in infrastructure.
“Most of the structures in Puerto Rico are made of concrete, so that in itself, I feel safe,” Lisch said. “Here, the construction is more wood and brick on the exterior, so I don’t feel safe. You can see it when we have devastations in the area. When you think about damages to a home, it is larger here, although when you look at the population of Puerto Rico, a large majority of them are under the poverty level and their homes are made out of wood. Here, everything from the rich to the poor, they get hit really hard. The devastation is pretty intense, but on the positive, here in the United States we have power in three days. All of Pensacola had power in three days and you wouldn’t see that in Puerto Rico.”
Lisch said she the fact she is able to talk with her family in friends in Puerto Rico this go around was heaven on Earth.
“Maria hit on my husband’s birthday, and we had no contact with his family, or mine,” Lisch said. “It was the worst feeling of my life. My dad was able to get signal for a couple of minutes, and all he said was that he needed cash, and batteries. We figured out a way to ship stuff to him, which got there much later. This time around, being able to be in touch with them was heaven on Earth compared to the last hurricane. I think people were more prepared compared to last time.”
In 1917, Puerto Rico was declared a U.S. territory, but Lisch said a lot of people don’t know the island is part of the U.S.
“It is very interesting to me,” Lisch said. “We are proud Americans, like everyone else. In our favor, we get to learn two languages, and we get to learn the culture of the U.S. and Puerto Rico and merge them together to create our own version of what America is. I go back to Puerto Rico at least a month a year. I used to go multiple times a year, because I would work with clients down there, so I would go every two weeks. I will never leave my island. I am here because work brings us here, but Puerto Rico is always in our hearts, and we will help Puerto Rico whenever we can.”
During Hurricane Maria, Lisch said she worked with the Pensacola Mom Collective to gather supplies to send to Puerto Rico.
“We had tractor trailers filled with toilet paper and food and sent it down to Puerto Rico,” Lisch said. “We want to make sure that people in our community know that Puerto Rico is part of the nation.”
For those that may have not experienced a hurricane in Pensacola, Lisch has some tips to get you prepared.
“Don’t shop too many freezer items, that is the first thing,” Lisch said. “The summer is over, so we don’t need to stock up on barbeque ribs or anything like that. Just buy the essential items when it comes to refrigerated items. Make sure you have plenty of shelf items from canned foods to milk, anything that that is nonperishable. Having a generator is super important, especially if you need that little bit of light at night. Make sure you have a runaway pack with a change of clothes and important papers you may have. Tell your neighbors that you’re OK. Get in touch with them before the storm in case you need help, or they need help during the storm.”
Lisch is married with two kids. She is a contributor to the Pensacola Mom Collective, a local parenting resource developed to educate, encourage and empower moms in the Pensacola area. The group published a hurricane preparedness article during Hurricane Sally that you can read here.
As of Thursday, 495,000 customers, about 38 percent, have electricity in Puerto Rico, according to LUMA Energy, which operates the island’s power grid. About 890,000 customers, or 67 percent of all users, now have running water, according to Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority Executive President Doriel Pagán Crespo.