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Stories of Survival

Reprinted from PN February 2018

Nearly five months ago, Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, and as the island slowly recovers, the welfare of PVA members living there is a primary concern for PVA's national leaders.

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Hurricane Maria was slamming into Puerto Rico as a powerful Category 4 storm on Sept. 20, 2017, and 87-year-old Juan Gonzalez was watching as the ocean surge rose and poured in closer to his home near the beach about 50 miles west of San Juan. As the water began to rise on his front porch in Arecibo, Gonzalez did the only thing he could think of — he lifted himself out of his power wheelchair and onto a table. He then grabbed onto the iron bars on his windows and held on for dear life as wind gusts of 100-plus mph battered his body and the water rose 2 feet below him. The Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Puerto Rico Chapter member and Army veteran clung to those bars for an hour before the wind calmed down enough for him to let go and survey the damage to his home and neighborhood. The second story of his house was completely gone. His wheelchair, walker and home hospital bed were ruined from water damage. For 20 days, he was without power or water. He lost 12 pounds because he couldn’t use his wheelchair to get to the store and had no family nearby to help him. 

“For two days, I didn’t want to leave the house because I was in shock,” Gonzalez says through an interpreter. “I didn’t think the water would come so far. I thought I’d be OK here.”

By early December, 77 days post-hurricane, his electricity had been restored, but he still had no potable water. 

 

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Stories of Survival

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