SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Though Hurricane Irma showed her true strength on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra, just under 23 miles from the closest mainland city, Fajardo, she just skimmed by the Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan.
Still, the effect Irma left on the residents of San Juan and its outlying neighborhoods is still being felt nearly a week later. Much of Old San Juan is still without electricity and some homes and businesses are without running water.
The same is true in other San Juan neighborhoods.
Houses and apartments in Condado, a beachfront neighborhood filled with hotels and restaurants, has had the power come on like a patchwork, one home fully powered and the neighboring building still completely dark.
In Santurce, felled trees still litter parks and block sidewalks and empty lots, and in Hato Rey, those who are lucky enough to have balconies and porches drag out their mattresses out of their bedrooms in the evening to take advantage of the cool night air while they sleep.
Driving around it’s hard not to notice that only a handful of streetlights and traffic signals are functional.
Still, there are people trying to make the best of a situation that is completely out of their hands.
Rolando Lucca, 34, is the owner of La Cubanita, a popular bar on Calle San Jose in Old San Juan. Over the weekend, despite the fact that he had no power at or water at his Miramar apartment or on the street where his bar is located, he decided it was time to open up shop.
Both Rolando and his brother, Willie Lucca, 35, were in Puerto Rico for Hurricanes George and Hugo and were expecting massive damage from Irma, perhaps even worse, so their preparation for Irma was nothing if not thorough.
Before Irma made her run for the island, Rolando and his coworkers went about storing every bottle and every can of beer, every mixing glass and every coupe, turning off the breakers, unplugging all the appliances, and boarding up the windows and doors.
By Friday night, two days after the storm, Rolando was back at the bar. He had hooked up the essentials, beer fridges and Christmas lights, to a gas powered generator, restocking all the beer and mounting every bottle and glass, and at around 7 p.m. opened up for business.
“I discussed opening the bar with the other partners, and we all agreed. It was a natural decision,” says Rolando. “People have been stuck in their homes with no power, with no water. That can become unbearable. Not only because of the heat but also because you begin to feel trapped.”
Willie added, “We still have cellular service, so thanks to social media we were able to see how badly people felt the need for someplace to go where they could charge there phones, connect to the internet, and meet with friends. We knew they needed somewhere to go.”
“It feels good to be able to receive locals, and people visiting the island who didn’t expect to be stuck here,” said Rolando, “who just want to socialize, to share their experience of the storm. Sleeping in the heat and not having water is very difficult and we feel proud that people can come here to sit under fans that work and have a cold beer, too finally be able to cool off, if only for a while.”