Keyla Vega, a mother of two, moved to Reno, Nev. one week after hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico and in lieu of focusing on its aftermath, Vega plans to settle into a new life on the mainland.
The capital San Juan, also known as La Ciudad Amurallada, which translates to “The Walled City” is home to an abundance of colorful buildings that contrast well with the tropical rainforest landscape.
Before the category five hurricane Maria reached the island on September 20, Hurricane Irma swept through the region. Just as soon as Irma dissipated, Maria started to form. Even though Irma is also classified as a category five hurricane, its destruction was not as fierce as Maria proved to be.
This is one reason Vega believed she and he family would be able to withstand Maria.
Before Irma, I didn’t feel anything because of my building. I was one of the ones that never had the power go out,” Vega said. “So I was fine during Irma, that’s why I thought that maybe I was going to be fine during Maria, and I was.”
She lived on the 11th floor of the El Monte in La Ciudad Amurallada. This condominium is located in Hato Rey, the business district of San Juan. When Vega reflects on Maria, she believes that this building provided her family more protection during the hurricane than most other families.
“The building that I lived in was a very well designed building, it was built in the 60s by Edward Larrabee Barnes,” said Vega. “It was built having in mind earthquakes and hurricanes, and even an atomic bomb.”
Vega’s condo was able to resist most of Maria’s impact, but some of her neighbors’ windows burst due to the 175 mph (281 kph) winds. As a result, pets went missing and trees continued to fall even after the hurricane settled.
Vega was in her condo with her two boys and their dog during both hurricanes. They spent approximately eight hours in the bathroom when Maria was in full force. The only way she knew it was safe to come out was when she heard people talking outside. Once she left the bathroom, she saw the devastation and the burden it had inflicted on the people.
“I could see people just going crazy. There was no gas. You would stand in a gas station line for hours.”
There was also a lack of access to drinking water, but not for Vega; she was prepared. Before the hurricane, she bought a water filter and bottles of water.
Long lines also formed outside the open markets which resulted in looting and ultimately, the government implemented a 6 p.m. curfew.
The biggest concern Vega had was the fact that there were few hospitals open. As a mother, she was worried about what would happen in case of an emergency. Additionally, as a professional interior designer, she knew she would have a hard time finding work after the disaster.
Although many Puerto Ricans had trouble booking a flight to the mainland, Vega was able to purchase tickets for her two boys, their great grandmother and her ex-husband’s sister. She found it was easier to purchase a flight out the further away you went from the southern and eastern states.
“That’s when I decided to come here, to Reno, and just make the move,” she said.
Vega said that because the cell reception was so bad, she had difficulty reaching her family in Reno. Luckily, there was a cafe with working internet down the street from her condo. She would visit the cafe every morning, daily, to set up plans to migrate to the mainland.
Since she arrived in Reno, Vega said she feels it will take Puerto Rico a long time to recuperate, so she plans to stay and make a life in Reno.
As her family settles into Reno, she expressed her gratitude.
“I’m grateful and thankful to be here, and I hope that Puerto Rico gets better sooner than later.”