SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Here are four words no one in Puerto Rico wants to hear just days after Hurricane Irma: Round two is coming.
But the data's clear. A second hurricane — this one named Maria — is expected to hit the U.S. territory and other weather-fatigued regions of the Caribbean later this week.
No one’s relishing the return of catastrophic winds and deluge-causing rain. But most Puerto Rico residents who spoke to the Deseret News on Sunday say they’re taking the unwelcome news of Hurricane Maria in stride.
Jillayne Tomkins is an Arkansas transplant who has called San Juan home for three years. She’s witnessed a few tropical depressions, “but this is the first time we’ve really had any hurricane threat — and getting two big ones in a relatively close timespan is kind of worrisome.”
But Tomkins isn’t panicking. Her home held firm during Irma. And she’s well-stocked on provisions that she and her family would need if the power or water are out for extended periods.
“I feel a lot of peace,” she added. “I don’t feel anxious (about Maria). I know things will probably be ruined, but I know my family is going to be OK. We’re taking precautions.”
Puerto Rican civil authorities were also prepping Sunday for the hurricane. Some 450 shelters have been set up across the territory, with capacity for more than 67,000 people. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello also announced schools would be closed Monday and government workers would only work until noon so they would have time to prepare themselves for the hurricane’s passage.
A local government release acknowledged that enduring two hurricanes in as many weeks would put pressure on Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.
“The government is in constant communication with the White House and federal agencies since before the passage of Hurricane Irma last week,” said Carlos Mercader, the governor’s representative in Washington, D.C.
Puerto Rico serves as an emergency management hub for the Caribbean region.
San Juan native Wilfred Rosa made a run to the grocery store late Saturday to restock his Irma-depleted cache of canned goods, crackers and, of course, drinking water.
The shelves were emptying fast.
“I had to buy the fancy Fiji-brand water — I didn’t want to, but everything else was sold out.”
Rosa has more than his family to be concerned with when Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico. He presides over of the San Juan Puerto Rico Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His ecclesiastical duties include monitoring the temporal, emotional and spiritual welfare of thousands of Mormons living across a large section of the island.
“I think the members here feel like the Lord will take care of them,” he said. “They seem to be at peace. They feel everything will be all right.”
On Sunday, Rosa drove several miles outside San Juan to visit with members in the rural Rio Grande Branch where recovery from Hurricane Irma continues.
The tiny Rio Grande Branch meetinghouse remains without power. So about 20 Latter-day Saints and a few of their friends gathered for Sabbath services in a darkened chapel. The worshippers were hot and tired — but they didn’t seem troubled, even with Irma’s successor fast approaching. They sang hymns accompanied by recorded music played on a battery-operated CD player. Rosa and a few others delivered guidance and encouragement from the small pulpit.
Sitting in the small congregation was Elder Jake Jensen, an 18-year-old missionary from Elmo, Utah, who has been in Puerto Rico just a short time. He smiled and admitted to not giving much thought to hurricanes while growing up in Emery County.
Now Elder Jensen’s a hurricane veteran. “But I’d rather not see another one unless I’m watching it somewhere else on TV,” he said.
Another Utah missionary serving in Puerto Rico, Elder Cole Thornton, of Holladay, said Irma has taught him patience. Eventually the storm will pass.
“We’re getting ready for Maria, but we’re calm about it,” he said. “We’re ready to take on whatever comes.”
His companion, Elder Hammurabi Gonzalez from Aguascalientes, Mexico, added he’s found comfort from counsel offered by President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the church's First Presidency, during his visit to San Juan last Friday.
“President Eyring prepared us for what is coming,” he said. “We don’t need to fear if we are prepared.”