WNPR

Changing Reality: Hartford Couple Deals With Interrupted Puerto Rican Retirement

Nov 1, 2017

Pedro Bermudez, a Hartford school teacher, retired many years ago to Puerto Rico. He planned to live there for good with his wife Jeanette Hernandez.

The early morning hours of September 20 were probably the most traumatic of Bermudez’s life.

“You could be living a happy life and all of the sudden, from one day to the next, your life changes,” Bermudez said. “Reality changes. It’s so profound.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico that day—just southeast of Yabucoa. That’s where Bermudez and Hernandez have a house.

“Sad to say, I’m 53 years and in all of my whole life, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said they protected themselves from the storm by lying at the foot of the bed. She said the wind started to blow around 2:00 am. Then, she said there was a break in the storm at 5:00 am. That’s when she and Bermudez approached the door to have a look outside.

“As soon as we opened that door, my tears came out because the beautiful island that we just had moved to was gone,” Hernandez said.

The trees that they planted were gone. The one part of their home that wasn’t cement, the laundry room in back, was also gone. Supermarkets were empty. Banks rendered useless.

Because of all that, they’ve been forced to move back to Hartford—weeks away from the cold of a New England winter.

Bermudez spoke at Windham Town Hall on October 25. Pedro’s daughter Wildaliz Bermudez is a Hartford city councilwoman. She’s also part of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda. The group hosted a forum that night aimed at answering questions that concerned citizens had about the future of the island and the recovery effort.  Wildaliz invited her father there to speak to the crowd.

At the forum, handouts were provided to people directly affected by Hurricane Maria. Contact information was included so that those affected could inquire about various social services.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

“Stories are very powerful,” Wildaliz Bermudez said. “Their story, along with so many other families’ stories, are powerful and we have to listen to what’s happening.”

Pedro also hopes that his story could get a response from the community.

“So happy to be with the family but we also have another half of the family down there and we are very sad,” Pedro Bermudez said. “We came here to be the voice of those who are left down there.”

It hasn’t been all bad for the Bermudez’s—Pedro Jr. got married a few weeks ago and now in Connecticut, Pedro Sr. gets to spend time with Wildaliz’s five-month old child. He said those things give him and his wife a lot of hope.

This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.