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Lives interrupted: Hurricane teens left scrambling for normal

May 14, 2018
Homes in ruins
Puerto Rico

At Burgos High, Allana Rivera and Chelsea Núñez López giggle like the 16-year-old schoolgirls they are while explaining the inconveniences they live with now.

Rivera says she now reaches for a dictionary or a volume of her mom’s old encyclopedias for homework research that she used to do on the Internet. In the mornings, if she forgoes some sleep, she can heat water on the gas stove so she’ll have a warm bath. But if she wants to sleep in, then she has to endure the shock of the freezing water, which is all that comes from the faucet because, without power, the water heater doesn’t work.

Allana Rivera, 16.

Allana Rivera, 16. Ricardo Arduengo

Chelsea Núñez López, 16

Chelsea Núñez López, 16 Ricardo Arduengo

As they chatter more about their post-hurricane days, the girls reveal they are dealing with far tougher issues.

Lives interrupted: Hurricane teens left scrambling for normalLives interrupted: Hurricane teens left scrambling for normal

“It’s difficult because right now, I’m not in my house because they are repairing it,” Rivera said. “I had to move to another house.”

The river that flowed at the bottom of the mountainside adjacent to homes in her neighborhood of Jájome Bajo swelled and flooded Rivera’s home and carried away belongings. Maria’s winds that topped 150 miles per hour at landfall carried off part of her home’s roof.

After school, which ends at 3 p.m., the bus leaves Rivera at her hurricane-whipped home, where she stays during the remaining daylight hours to help with repairs.

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A destroyed home in Utuado. Ricardo Arduengo

In Jájome Bajo, about 15 miles north of Salinas, poles and cables are still on the ground or lean across roads. Some homes have blue tarps, others are reduced to wooden frames or the concrete slabs that were their foundations. Luckier than some, the community has running water, but it flows sporadically. Some residents have limited use of generators.

“After 5 [in the evening], I go to my other house, and then I can change and bathe,” Rivera said. “That’s why I do most things at school because, at home, I have no time.”

Núñez López confessed that the girls “can’t always be thinking about these things,” referring to the conditions and slow recovery.

“We have to remain positive and move forward because if you let yourself get caught up in those thoughts,” Núñez López said. “Then, we wouldn’t study at all,” said Rivera, jumping in to finish her friend’s thought.

That attitude may be defining of a generation growing up amid hurricane recovery.

“This is the future of children. They are coming of age in a more turbulent world,” Peek said. “Right now, being able to follow kids in the long term to understand how a disaster has really unfolded in their lives is definitely where we need more focused and long term attention.”

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