Two Bucks County, Pennsylvania women are among the millions of people in Puerto Rico bracing for Hurricane Maria as the Category 4 storm pummeled the Caribbean and threatened to hit the island with a force and violence not seen for “several generations.”
Alex McLaughlin of Bensalem and her friend Haley Connaughton of Doylestown traveled to Puerto Rico over the weekend for a girl’s trip.
“She actually just graduated from Temple so it was kind of like, alright, we’re graduating from college. Let’s do this before we can’t do it again,” McLaughlin told NBC10’s Denise Nakano during an interview over the phone Tuesday. “She graduated. I’m graduating. So we just decided, let’s just go on a girl’s trip.”
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The two friends arrived at a hotel in Rincón, Puerto Rico Saturday night. It wasn’t until Sunday when they found out about Hurricane Maria, which made landfall Wednesday morning.
The two women, who had initially planned to leave this Friday, tried looking up available flights to go home early ahead of the Hurricane but were unable to find any.
“We looked at flights last night and there was only one seat left on United,” McLaughlin said. “By the time we actually seriously considered it, everything was gone. So we can’t even get out right now.”
The women were evacuated from their hotel Tuesday and traveled to a new hotel in Mayagüez.
“They started saying, ‘Oh, it’s coming to hit us but you’re fine here. It’s not going anywhere near us,’” McLaughlin said. “Then we got evacuated today because it was supposed to come right over us.”
McLaughlin said the hotel is on higher ground but still near the ocean and only a bit higher than sea level. The hotel windows are boarded up and the building is surrounded by metal barriers. McLaughlin is unsure if that will be enough however to protect them from Maria’s powerful winds.
“We’re expected to get upwards of a hundred and something mile per hour winds probably around tonight,” she said. “So we’re just kind of hanging out right now.”
As nervous as McLaughlin is, she says she’d be even more scared if not for how calm everyone else around her appears to be.
“I’m kind of just taking everyone else’s vibes with me,” she said. “Everyone here has stayed pretty calm so it’s allowed me to get in a calm state of mind.”
“I’m just trying to stay as positive as one can be right now when you’re being faced with 160 mph winds in your direct location.”
The two friends gathered as much food and water as they could though it was difficult to come by.
“The only water we found was a four pack of Fiji for 10 bucks,” McLaughlin said. “That was about all we could find. Other then that we got a couple chips and brownies and muffins and cereal. Soda is completely sold out. We got apple juice because that was one of the only things left.”
They’re also trying as best as they can to keep their worried family members updated on the situation.
“They’ve been calling us and keeping in contact,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been pretty hard just because we don’t have cell service. They’re anticipating that the Wi-Fi and the cell service will go down. So we’ve just been kind of trying to keep in contact and get everyone updated with what we know but everything is in Spanish over here so we don’t really know much.”
For now, all they can do is brace for the storm and hope for the best. Despite their situation, McLaughlin still remains grateful.
“The people of Puerto Rico have been really great,” she said. “They’re preparing for mass devastation at this point. We got really, really lucky where we are. But other people haven’t been so lucky. So they’re definitely bracing for the worst right now.”
Maria struck Puerto Rico around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday with 155 mph winds.