By Sunday morning, we had managed to get my mom’s essentials into two suitcases, bid my aunts farewell for now and take one final stroll through the plaza in the center of town, where a local theater troupe was preparing to perform to raise people's spirits. Nearby, there was a station set up with a cellphone so that people could call their loved ones and, all around, people were filling up water containers from fire hydrants and powering up their phones using a public power source. For a moment, I found myself thinking, “Mom would totally be OK here," but, long term, I knew that it wasn’t sustainable for someone her age living on her own, especially when the most basic and precious commodity — water — is not readily available.
As we drove back to San Juan, the reality of the storm seemed to finally envelope my mother: She couldn’t believe the miles of scorched earth, the mountainside riddled with massive craters, the cars tossed about like toys strewn about a living room and the homes swallowed into the ground. She also saw, for the first time, the endless lines at gas stations, stores and banks.
Still, she has vowed to go back as soon as she can, as did many of the elderly people around us on our flight out. And maybe she, and they, will — but, first, the federal government needs to ramp up its rescue and recovery.
Leonor Ayala Polley is the Director of NBC News Partnerships.
Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.