Residentes de esa isla perdieron hasta los recuerdos familiares que tenían guardados

CULEBRA - Raul Colón left the house of a friend -where he took refuge during the passage of Hurricane Irma in this island-municipality- as soon as the fearsome winds stopped to see in what was left of his home.

Just before getting there, he felt a blow of horror. His house is on a hill of the Extension Villa Muñeca community, with an amazing view of Ensenada Honda, the part of the sea that goes like a blue mole almost halfway through Culebra, can be seen from the curves of the road to the village.

"As I was coming up and saw the house, I did not even have the strength to catch the guide. This was all I had. I cried," said yesterday Raul, 46, who works transporting tourists.

The house, which was recently priced at $ 196,000, was completely destroyed by Irma. The roof was totally gone, including 26 solar panels that Raul bought with a $ 38,000 loan.

There was nothing left of the main room with a balcony where Raul and his wife, Frida Lorente, used to relax with the view of Ensenada Honda and Pirate Key. Yesterday, a television fixed to the only wall left after the hit of Hurricane Irma was the only sign there once there was a room there.

The bed was found on the slope behind the house. Clothes were scattered in neighboring backyards. The living room, the bedrooms of his two children, a 13 year-old child and a university student of 18, were unrecognizable.

"I already cried all I could. I just dont cry anymore. Now it´s time to move forward again. I dont know how, but I'm going forward again," said Raul, who noted that he has about $ 200 in his bank account to start over.

Like him, those who lost everything in Culebra were devoted to the hard task of trying to resume their lives after the powerful blow that destroyed the community. They were stunned, disoriented and still not having completely overcome the trauma of suddenly having nothing left.

They were comforted by the movement of collecting the debris, arranging the few things they had left, cleaning the surroundings of what once was their home, and now they are piles of scrap and waste. They felt that they were doing something, that somehow they were moving forward.

Yesterday, the United States government declared Culebra and the neighboring island of Vieques as disaster zones. That means that economic aid will soon arrive, which can be translated both into assistance to rebuild their homes and pay rent while they find their own place.

 Officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were conducting  interviews here yesterday. Mayor William Iván Solís said he hoped FEMA would begin sending aid in the coming days.

"They found that Culebra is in need," he said.

 Solis stated that 30 homes were totally destroyed by Irma and other 40 suffered significant damage.

Among those houses that were completely destroyed was the wooden house that Angel Navarro, a retired man from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and cancer patient, shared with his friend Rafael Camilo, a construction worker.

Navarro, native of Trujillo Alto, came to Culebra looking for peace. "I came seeking out tranquility, but they hit me hard," he says. He points to the lowest part of the slope where his house was. There are the piles of a cement house he was planning to build. "Time betrayed me," says Angel. "Our memories, our sacrifice, whatever we would have done, is lost," he says.

Rafael, meanwhile, adds that "we have to start again from scratch. But that's what life is about, starting over."

That was the attitude yesterday in Culebra and it will be for a long time:  starting over.

Reporter José A. Delgado collaborated with this story.


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