IT was a worrying time for Claremorris couple Martin and Ena Hession from Kilbeg as they waited for contact from their daughter Helena and family in Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of the country being devastated by powerful Hurricane Maria.
Helena and her husband Columba McGarvey from Donegal, along with their three children, have resided in Cerrada, Puerto Rico, for the last four years. Columba is an engineer with Abbott Laboratories (Sligo) and has been overseeing the establishment of a factory on the Caribbean island.
Prior to moving to Puerto Rico, Helena, who is also a qualified meteorologist, worked with the Bank of Ireland in Donegal town and Letterkenny, and the couple resided in Mount Charles.
Helena’s father, Martin, a retired teacher and former principal of St Colman’s College, Claremorris, says they had to endure a very anxious wait until word came through that the family were okay after ‘Maria’s’ path of rampage knocked out the power supply of the entire island that is home to 3.5 million people.
“Columba has a special satellite phone and has been able to connect with his parents in Donegal on a few occasions. They were the first to relay the news to us that the family were okay after the hurricane. But the general communications on the island is still almost completely down and things are very difficult for almost everyone out there. The occasional text has got through but that is very rare still.
“Helena and the family reside in an American compound so the stone structure was solid. So many of the homes in Puerto Rico are wooden structures and they took an awful battering. Winds reached up to 140 miles per hour which saw them pack ferocious power bringing down trees, power lines, houses, bridges and so much infrastructure.
“It was a very frightening experience for them at the height of the hurricane. They had a taste of the power of hurricanes when ‘Irma’ did damage some time earlier but ‘Maria’ just shattered the island.”
For almost all on the island, it is now a case of survival mode and trying to cope as best they can while things gradually improve. The Trump administration submitted a $29 billion disaster relief request to Congress last week to cover ongoing relief and recovery efforts. It is expected that it could take at least four months to restore electricity to all of Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, contact with Helena and Columba is still rare for Martin and Ena Hession as the vast bulk of the communications network is still down on the island.
“Unless people have transistor radios, it is very difficult to know what is happening anywhere on the island. Helena was not even aware that President Donald Trump had arrived at the capital San Juan such was the lack of access to media outlets. They have very little idea of what is going on anywhere just now.
“Columba managed to get the loan of a small generator from the factory. It is very warm out there at this time of the year. They use it for air-conditioning in one room of the house where all five of them live and sleep since the hurricane passed over. There is no general power and no school yet either.
“While things are not good, we are glad they are okay. We will be more content when communications are restored and things begin to improve. It could take years for Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricane Maria. We understand that Helena and Columba and family plan to return to Donegal next year at the end of the five- year term with the Abbott company. It will be great to have them back home,” says Martin.