Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with a New Hampshire mother last week who was unable to contact her daughter after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico.
Valerie Mowbray, from the town of Holderness, didn’t hear from her daughter Moria Nickerson for days after the category 5 hurricane. Nickerson lives on the Island of Vieques with her boyfriend and their three dogs.
The island lost electricity, water and Internet. Outside of a few Satellite phones, there was no way for those stranded to communicate with anyone off the island.
Nickerson eventually made if off Vieques and has reunited with her mother. She landed in New Hampshire on Monday. Rick spoke with Nickerson on Tuesday.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
How did you eventually get in contact with your mom?
There's a hotel called the El Blok in Vieques, and they had a satellite phone there. And they were doing communication with a lady named Marianne who was running a private charter plane, and she's friends with my mother. So she just had somebody come find me. So somebody just showed up on my doorstep, and said that my mother's friend was coming down and they wanted me to get on the plane the next day. So my mother could see me.
We talked to your mom last week, and obviously she was doing everything she could to make some contact with you, and going through social media and trying to find some way of getting some kind of message to you. How long have you been living on the island?
Just about seven years.
Are you going to go back?
I am, yes. I’m going to try to head back in the next couple of weeks. My boyfriend is still there.
Can you tell us what was happening on the island after the storm? What was your experience?
Well there's not much communication and no power or anything. I pretty much stayed in the house because we just had to be careful of people coming, and robbing and looting. So the generator needed to be almost guarded just to make sure. So I stayed pretty much in the house for 11 days. I left twice to go to the grocery store just to get food.
Did you have a store open on the
Yes. The grocery stores are owned by a family. And there's two of them. So they were switching. One would open, and the other was closed just to have some type of food. I mean it's very bare. There's no produce or nothing like that. All you know canned and boxed food was available though.
We're hearing so many reports of how Puerto Rico is struggling obviously to recover with limited resources. In Vieques it's even more isolated. You've got to take a ferry ride to get from over from the mainland. Did you see any help coming in from the outside before you were able to leave?
There was some. It was not you know a lot. The ferries did start to run again. So we got some shipments. The gas comes by ferry gas trucks. So we did get one or two gas trucks to the island, which was great. But it's slowly trickling in. It's getting better now from what I can see.
How did you get through this storm? Did you have a lot of damage?
Our house itself was fine. We did have some minor flooding. A 40 foot cement power pole was uprooted behind our house. All the streetlights had fallen down. We have a shop next to our house that had cement walls that were blown right off of the roof and blown over. And most of our neighbors’ roofs were blow it off. And our neighbor's house, the back of it, was blown away—so lots of damage.
And what happened to your neighbors? Were they able to take shelter? Were they on the island?
One neighbor was a seasonal house. And another one was able to get to a safer house, and is staying at the moment because she has no home anymore.
Is there any kind of indication of a timeline here of when you think the island will be getting back to some kind of normalcy?
That's really hard to say. I've heard anything from the power coming back from three months to eight months. You know, power would be I think the first thing to bring it back to normalcy, or just on the way to start to it. But hopefully within the year.
I'm wondering about the mood on the island itself. Obviously you spent several days there without power, and as you said you're worried about some looting. What was the mood like on Vieques right now?
People are sad. It's, you know, a lot of destruction. But things are starting to come back. All of our banana trees are wiped out, but by the time I was leaving they already had big leaves coming back on them. The trees are starting to turn green again. So, it's nice to see things coming back. That's a good sign.