SAN JUAN -- The relieved sigh Puerto Ricans heaved after Hurricane Irma’s menacing eye just missed them two weeks ago has long been forgotten now that Hurricane Maria, Irma’s wicked cousin, has everyone on the Caribbean island holding their breath.
Maria is coming straight for them.
“Today, I’m afraid. This is a biggie,” said 79-year-old Barbara Royce, a 40-year Puerto Rican resident of San Juan’s Toa Baja neighborhood. “This one’s coming, and we can’t get away.”
National Hurricane Center forecasters warned of a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm, with 165 mph winds Tuesday. President Donald Trump declared a preemptive state of emergency. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked “for America’s prayers.”
But true to laid-back Caribbean form, Puerto Ricans didn’t quite panic.
Under gray skies, shoppers streamed into a Walmart Supercenter in the San Juan neighborhood of Santurce early Tuesday afternoon, grabbing last-minute supplies from shelves empty of water. But they also sat down for leisurely hot lunches at the store’s cafeteria. Workers continued to stock fresh bananas.
The only bona-fide frenzy took place when employees wheeled in a pallet of battery-operated fans, so recently arrived that they didn’t yet bear price stickers — and so coveted that a gaggle of employees stood guard around the cache. A rush of people lined up — it seemed as if every customer left clutching at least one, for $20 a pop — but there was a catch.
“There are no batteries,” 26-year-old Juan Carlos Contreras, fan in hand, said with a shrug.
Photo credit: Carl Juste, MIami Herald staff