Hurricane survivors find new home in Aroostoook
This column by the Aroostook County Action Program is meant to give a voice to people in Aroostook County who “Champion Change” — mostly in their own lives, but also in their community. Our hope is that by sharing real stories of people we’ve come to know through our “community action” work, that readers will experience some amount of change within themselves.
In “It Came at Night” Part I, Adry, Jesus and their two children survived Hurricane Maria, but are left to deal with the aftermath. They’ve lost all of their belongings, their home is destroyed, and their jobs no longer exist. They look to an uncertain future.
Months passed before Adry and Jesus and their children found their way off their little island home and on to a new path and a new beginning. The military arrived sometime after the hurricane and instituted curfews and rationing rules to keep looting down and to help distribute supplies.
For months after they left, though, the island remained without power and with limited communication and access to food, water and much needed medical supplies. All of those things went first to the main island of Puerto Rico, and then to the smaller communities like Vieques. To further complicate things, the docks for supply ships and the airports that could access the island were all damaged and unusable for some time.
“Nothing could come in,” said Adry.
And nobody could get out, at least at first.
It was Adry’s boss from the bank who ultimately helped them connect with family in Florida. He had a satellite phone and when resources became available in December, three months after the hurricane, so he could charge it, he let Adry and others use it to contact help. Adry’s sister-in-law helped facilitate their travel off the island and brought them to live with her family in a small mobile home in Homestead, Florida.
There were eight people staying in the small mobile home, but it was the first seed of hope Adry and her husband felt in months, so they set out to rebuild. That meant making the best of the situation and beginning to look for work so they could hopefully find a home of their own eventually. If they had been the only people fleeing hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, then that task may have been more possible. After three months of searching and trying to find help to no avail, hope once again began to fade. Rules in the association where her sister-in-law’s mobile home was located limited the amount of time she could have house guests, so they were quickly running out of time.
Another sister-in-law had made her way to Maine and although it meant an extreme change in climate and culture for the family, her story of what she found when she arrived here inspired them to follow.
“It was the last option we had. We took a gamble,” said Adry.
They arrived in northernmost Maine in spring of 2018, almost eight months after the hurricane. For a few days, they stayed with their extended family in Madawaska, but the apartment was small and they knew they needed to take deliberate steps to secure their future as soon as possible.
They moved into Aroostook County’s only homeless shelter in Presque Isle where they experienced two more pivotal moments in their journey — they saw snowfall for the first time ever, and they met ACAP Coach Heidi Rackliffe. Within two weeks, Rackliffe had helped the family secure their own housing in a duplex apartment. They never complained about their stay in the shelter, and were grateful to have a warm, comfortable place to sleep. Having their own space again, though, meant that after months of being in limbo after having lost everything, they could finally start moving forward.
In “It Came at Night Part III, Adry and Jesus settle into the community and make fast progress toward establishing a new life for their family.
Aroostook County Action Program administers more than 40 programs in the community that help people meet their basic needs and that offer support, education and encouragement. For information, visit our website at acap-me.org or call our office at (207) 764-3271.