This Puerto Rico storm survivor landed in Colchester

Arminda Larraneta enjoys a hot meal at Panera Bread shortly after arriving in the region from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. (Izaskun Larraneta/The Day)
Arminda Larraneta enjoys a hot meal at Panera Bread shortly after arriving in the region from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. (Izaskun Larraneta/The Day)

Arminda Larraneta was just getting accustomed again to the simple pleasures of electricity and hot water, having arrived Thursday night from Puerto Rico, when the power went out here in Connecticut over the weekend.

"I brought (Hurricane) Maria with me," Larraneta laughed Tuesday, as she told me about her escape from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, where the 75-year-old grandmother of four spent many harrowing hours alone in her rural farmhouse, as Hurricane Maria lashed the island last month.

But of course, the weather that caused widespread outages here this week was nothing more than a "baby storm," says Larraneta, who still seems a little reluctant to recall the horrors of the big one that has driven her, for the time being anyway, from home.

"It was Satanic," she said about the roar of wind and the sight of pieces of neighbors' houses flying by as she peeked out from her own concrete house during the height of the hurricane.

"It was the most horrible thing a human being could ever imagine," she said.

I met Larraneta in person Tuesday, but, like others here in The Day newsroom, I have been following her plight, from pre-Maria storm warnings to the devastation wrought when the storm hit, through the worries of her daughter, Izaskun Larraneta, The Day's deputy managing editor.

I know Larraneta's stubbornness in staying and riding out the storm alone frustrated her daughter.

But I quickly saw, when I met her, the determination and stubbornness of someone who was not going to be chased from home lightly. She was alone but she had her Rosary.

She finally acquiesced to her daughter's pleas to come visit here, as the devastation of Maria came into focus, but she wasn't able to get a plane out until Thursday.

Helping to convince her was her health. She had surgery related to breast cancer a few days before Maria hit, and she has been unable to get treatment since. One clinic is being used as a morgue and two of her doctors left the island after the storm.

She had a hard time finding the right words to describe the pleasure of her first warm shower here, but I could see the ecstasy in her eyes as she described it.

She insisted, despite offers to go anywhere, that her first meal out be at Panera Bread, where she ordered a turkey, cheddar and apple sandwich.

It made the long lines to shop in a grocery store with empty shelves seem a long way away. Immediately after the storm, she had to scavenge for water but, by the time she left, it was on at home a few days at a time.

She did get someone to start her generator after the storm, after she stood in the road and flagged someone down. But she couldn't run it often, because of gas shortages.

No one knows when the power will come back on, but she is not optimistic it will be before spring.

The only help she got from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was a bag of snack food, left at a neighbor's house, that was alarmingly salty, given the shortage of drinking water.

Larraneta, who grew up in the house that sheltered her during Hurricane Maria, is very loyal to Puerto Rico, although she has spent much of her life elsewhere.

She left the island for the United States as a young woman looking for opportunity and lived in New York and Connecticut before becoming a nun and moving with the church to Spain.

She left her religious vocation to get married, and she and her husband, who was Basque, left Spain, fleeing Franco's fascism, for New York City, where they worked and lived for 20 years and raised two children.

She returned to her childhood home after she lost her husband, who is now buried on the island. She learned to drive at 70, because she couldn't live in the country on the island without a car.

Larraneta visited her husband's burial site after the storm and was relieved how little damage there was to his own burial structure, given the devastation all around.

She said she loves visiting her children and grandchildren here, but her friends and fellow churchgoers, as well as her husband's grave, will be strong incentives for her to return to Puerto Rico.

Judging from her easy laugh and the twinkle in her eye, I suspect she might have a few more lucky charms up her sleeve.

Indeed, as we chatted Tuesday afternoon, she got word that the power was back on at her daughter's home in Colchester. No more cold showers for a while.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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