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Hurricane Maria Forces “Hurried” Evacuation: Ashburn to Puerto Rico and Back Again

Ashlee Cox, staff writer

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Senior Colette Termaat and freshman Sophie Termaat moved from Virginia to Puerto Rico in 2015 when their dad got a job working on the island for Open Mobile.

Staying in the area for more than two years, Colette and Sophie began to enjoy their new home.

I really loved the atmosphere there,” Sophie said, “The Puerto Ricans are so nice and helpful and the environment was amazing. I walked home from school on the beach and it was literally like living in paradise. Everyone makes you feel at home.”

On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico at 6:15 a.m. as a Category 4 Hurricane, and three weeks later the island is still in destruction. Just a day before the two girls were evacuated.

“We found out about 2 p.m. that we had a flight at 6 p.m. and we thought we’d only be here a few days and it’s been three weeks now,” Colette said.

Even though the Termaat’s had lived in Virginia before, coming back was a different feeling.

“It’s just kind of weird coming back,” Colette said. “I’ve gotten so used to a new culture with Spanish all around me and being able to go to the beach every day and just constantly traveling around the island. It’s not bad here. Everyone has been super welcoming and helpful and I’m just really glad I knew a lot of people here from before I moved.”

With some families stuck together in taking flight to their new homes, others had to leave behind spouses, children and parents in devastating conditions.

The Termaat’s father had to stay behind to continue his work and try to fix the phone lines.

“He’s an executive for a telecom company that’s currently trying to work with the FCC to get up their phone lines because communication is so bad,” Colette said, “I have been able to talk to him but it’s very choppy and it’s hard to tell when I can or cannot talk to him. During the storm, there was about a seven-hour period where I couldn’t talk to him which was really scary because all I knew was that he had moved into the stairwell of my apartment building and the door to the roof had opened up and water and debris was falling on him and my dogs.”

Since the storm landed, destruction and disorganization has been a huge problem. For almost three weeks, most of the island’s locals still don’t have access to clean water and electricity.

“I was in complete disbelief,” Sophie said. “The place that I had known and loved was destroyed. With my dad still in Puerto Rico and not being able to hear from him and not knowing if he was safe was the scariest hours of my life. The news was horrible and it keeps getting worse each day and it’s still very bad.”

The Termaat’s hope to return to Puerto Rico soon but troubles still await.

According to Samantha Raphelson from National Public Radio, the estimated cost will be $5 billion to repair all systems destroyed by the storm.

The Termaat’s plan on returning to Puerto Rico on Oct. 24 but problems are still occurring, effecting their home situation.

“Our generator for our apartment building broke so we can’t live in our apartment since we’re on the 11th floor and the elevator doesn’t work,” Colette said.

As Puerto Rico continues to stay in the state that it is, Termaat hopes that people contribute as much as they can to help support the island and its community.

“People still need to realize there’s a huge crisis going on and Puerto Rico needs all the help they can get,” Colette said, “There’s a place in Chantilly called Undo’s Por Puerto Rico DMV taking donations and needing help packaging and moving stuff so they really need all the help they can get.”

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Hurricane Maria Forces “Hurried” Evacuation: Ashburn to Puerto Rico and Back Again