Veronica Carrión, 39, was a registered nurse and single mother of three in Yabucoa, the seaside town where Hurricane Maria first made landfall.
The devastation on the island and the scarcity of medical services led Carrión and her family to leave Puerto Rico within a month of the storm. They first moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts, to stay with family but relocated to Cleveland a few months later in pursuit of more affordable living.
The desire to provide for her children has propelled Carrión forward.
“My priority has been feeding and sheltering my kids,” she said.
Carrión and daughter Krizanyeline, 19; son Marcos, 17; and daughter Yanisse, 11, lived through Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6, 2017 — a mere two weeks before Hurricane Maria. Irma had left the family without power.
When the second hurricane entered Yabucoa at dawn, it packed 155 mph winds, destroying or damaging everything in its path. At least three tornadoes were spotted in the area.
“It was like a horror film,” Carrión said.
The family’s apartment flooded and sustained heavy damage when a palm tree crashed onto the roof. They lost nearly everything they owned.
Within weeks, residents were shaken by desperation, shock and loss. Violent crime escalated. People literally fought over food.
Carrión would leave her apartment at 5 a.m. each day in search of water in a nearby town. She and her children would stand in line for six to eight hours to fill gallon jugs with water. They once waited nearly six hours to buy a loaf of bread. The sight of grilled chicken one day was la Gloria — the high point.
The hospital and justice center where Carrión worked remained closed after the hurricane, as did the University of Puerto Rico, where her older daughter was a sophomore.
Carrión’s health suffered. She hurt her spine carrying buckets of water and developed an intestinal condition from eating little more than rice. She also developed a fungus on her face after washing clothes in a river contaminated by animal waste.
The family arrived in Massachusetts on Oct. 15 with little more than the clothes they wore. Strangers provided them with clothes, coats, shoes and nearly $2,000 in cash. Carrión sought medical attention and found work caring for an elderly man.
Within a few months, Carrión bought a car. She and her children set out for Ohio on Dec. 29. They encountered a snowstorm somewhere between New York and Pennsylvania — their first time driving in snow.
Once in Cleveland, the family moved into an Old Brooklyn apartment secured by a friend. They purchased household items from Walmart and the dollar store. Their landlord brought them a bed and a dining room table.
Carrión received additional treatment at MetroHealth Medical Center and found a job with a local flowerpot manufacturer. She later worked at Riddell in North Ridgeville, where she placed stickers on NFL football helmets. She now works as a nurse’s assistant for the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio.
Her children are adapting, too.
Krizanyeline is taking English classes at Tri-C®. Her daughter Yanisse is in sixth grade at Luis Muñoz Marin School. Her son Marcos is a junior at James Ford Rhodes High School.
It’s been a year of many lessons, said Carrión.
“I’ve learned that today you may have everything, and tomorrow you may have nothing.”