After marrying the love of her life, Tina Maldonado Cuevas prepared to relax on her honeymoon in Puerto Rico after visiting family on another part of the island. Hurricane Maria had other plans.
Instead, the newlyweds survived a hurricane together in their hotel room after picking up a few canned goods from a corner store. They hoped their money would last until they secured a flight back to the East Coast. They finally returned to their New Britain home Sunday night — a week after their honeymoon was scheduled to end.
“Before, everything was great. The island was beautiful. The scenery was amazing… We enjoyed ourselves very much hanging out with family and eating authentic [Puerto Rican] food,” Cuevas said. Now, surrounded by family and friends in Connecticut, she said, “it’s real but it still feels unreal.”
Cuevas spoke calmly but in a tone clearly still tinged with awe as she recounted their unimaginable honeymoon.
“We had never experienced a hurricane before in our lives,” she said. Before leaving her aunt and uncle’s house in the mountainous area of the island, “we went down the street to a little store and grabbed some canned goods, just a little bit of things to hold us over. We got to the hotel on the 18th [of September] and the storm came on the [night of the] 19th and it was devastating.”
Management at their hotel, in an area packed with tourists, had warned the guests about safety steps if the windows broke or the building was otherwise damaged. As Hurricane Maria raged over the island the lobby doors were locked to prevent anyone from getting trapped in the 150-mph winds. Because of the location of their hotel and the fact that they stayed in a room on the fourth-floor, the couple avoided any material loss but still witnessed the hurricane’s havoc outside.
“Our daily routine was we would wake up in the morning. We only had one meal a day. We would walk around to see what restaurants had what food available and what restaurants we were able to afford,” Cuevas said. Some restaurants had generators to keep groceries from spoiling but all resources were finite. “As the days passed by, things got tighter.”
They stayed in an area outside of San Juan and found Wi-Fi and cell service to contact their family back in Connecticut. (Her aunt and uncle’s house withstood the storm but not everyone in her family has been accounted for.) Most of their days they just walked around the neighborhood, Cuevas said, but a curfew forced everyone on the electricity-scarce island inside by 6 or 7 p.m. “The islanders … didn’t seem that concerned,” she said. “The tourists were dying to get home. It was something I’d never gone through [before].”
Though they had a flight booked for Sunday, Sept. 24, from San Juan to Bradley International Airport, they weren’t informed until the day before that it had been canceled.
The couple, staying in a luxury hotel for their honeymoon, scrambled to find a cheaper room and book two seats on a flight out of the island. “My husband and I were just set up on getting rescheduled and rescheduled and rescheduled as our finances were declining,” Cuevas said.
Although members of her family live less than two hours from where they were, many of the roads were impassable, Cuevas said.
Family and friends rallied to call JetBlue, the airline she had originally booked the flights on, to find them a pair of seats on a relief flight.
The newlyweds finally departed from San Juan and landed at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York late Sunday night.
Now that they’re back in New Britain, Cuevas said she will stock her basement with nonperishable foods and other survival tools in case of another emergency.
“You never know what can happen. You don’t know how much you eat or drink until it’s taken away from you,” she said. “Don’t take life for granted. Don’t take people for granted.”