When Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017, 32-year-old Daniel Vásquez was living in Cidra, a small town in the mountains of central Puerto Rico.
Originally from Defiance, Ohio, Vásquez and his family moved to the island in 1998 when his father retired from GM.
Today, Vásquez lives in Cleveland. He is working full time and adjusting to life in Northeast Ohio. It’s a long way from the chaos and uncertainty that ensued after Hurricane Maria.
The storm’s eye passed near Cidra, leaving thousands of people without clean drinking water, food, electricity or means of communicating with friends and family members. Residents were left shell-shocked by the magnitude of the devastation. After the hurricane, Cidra resembled a war zone.
“There was nothing left to do but help each other out,” said Vásquez’s sister, Nancy. Even neighbors who barely knew one another worked together to cut away fallen trees, branches and wires. They also shared water, food, ice and other resources.
Vásquez and his twin brother, Manuel, returned to their jobs at an ice plant within a few days of the storm. But so many roads were impassable and full of debris that it was impossible to deliver ice directly to customers.
For days, people would line up at the plant for six hours or more, in search of ice to buy.
After a month, the roads were clear enough for Vásquez and his co-workers to deliver ice to stores and gas stations. At times, they feared that customers — who had grown increasingly anxious in the hurricane’s aftermath — might attack them to obtain the coveted ice.
After Maria, life in Cidra became much more difficult amid heat and desperation. Residents would not regain running water until spring 2018. Electrical power was unavailable until August, when a group of locals pooled $150 each to pay a neighbor with electrical expertise to restore power to their homes.
Within six weeks of the hurricane, the harsh and unpredictable living conditions in the town prompted Vásquez to head to Lakeshore, Florida, in search of a job.
Alone in Florida, he quickly left for Cleveland at the urging of his sister, who had relocated there with their mother and her own two children in November.
With help from the Spanish American Committee, Vásquez found a job at Athens Foods, a local producer of phyllo dough products. He began his new job in December 2017 and remains at the company today. He shares a three-bedroom home with his sister and their parents.
“My future is here,” Vásquez said. “I just want to keep working and doing better for myself.”