WOODRIDGE, Ill. -- Imagine being in your late 90s, living your retirement in your gorgeous hometown which happens to be in paradise and overnight having to come back to face another Chicago winter. This is happening to a lot of elderly Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria.
If you visit one spacious home in Woodridge, you will find 96-year-old Dolores Lopez, or Don Lolo, on this corner, right by the window, basking in the fall sunshine longing for the warmth of his beautiful Puerto Rico.
“I had no choice given the situation right now but to pluck him out of the island,” his daughter said.
Don Lolo’s daughter, Dr. Rosita Lopez, traveled to Puerto Rico six days after Hurricane Maria destroyed most of the U.S. territory. She hadn’t spoken to her father since the devastating storm hit the island although she knew he was okay.
“I was able to get bits of information to know he was okay, the house was okay, the dog was okay, but nothing else is there,” she said.
She knew that but nothing else. She said the drive to the mountains of Gurabo is one she will never forget.
“What I saw there is no way I can explain it. It just felt like a bomb. It really felt horrific. Lots of destruction and my dad was waiting for me at the gate,” she said.
Don Lolo is such a sound sleeper at age 96 that he didn’t hear the storm but he saw the aftermath.
“When I woke up, everything was destroyed. The worst I have seen,” he said.
As she tried to help her father settle his affairs, Lopez said she tried to assist others in his dad’s town because no official help had reached them. Without any communication but with the help of a cousin with an SUV she would go get gas for families in the neighborhood so they could operate their power generators.
She also left with her father who now sleeps in a bed in her living room because he can’t make it up the stairs to a guest room. And although he is thankful for the love and care of his three wonderful daughters, he can’t wait to go home.
“I came to go home, not to stay,” he said.
Lopez is worried about her father’s emotional stability with this drastic change---depression, a feeling of displacement. She’s even purchased sun lamps so he can feel some semblance of sunshine during our dark winter.
Lopez also worries for those left behind, on November 14, she is headed back to the island, specifically to the rural areas with her own contingent of family and friends armed with water purifies, medicines and generators.