For nearly 65 hours while her native Puerto Rico was being battered by the savage 155-mph winds of Hurricane Maria, Barry University women’s volleyball standout Genesis Castillo was unable to get any news on her mother and whether she was safe back home.
Castillo had last heard from mother Rosa Ortiz on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 7:42 a.m. Two days later, at 11 p.m., Castillo heard through a third party that her mother was OK. But it wasn’t until 6:56 p.m. Sunday that a text from Ortiz reached Castillo.
It read: “Mi casa (crying emoji).”
Translation: Ortiz’s house in Toa Alta had completely collapsed. Fortunately, Ortiz had fled about 30 minutes away to the home of another of her daughters, in the town of Catano.
Meanwhile, just prior to this disaster, Castillo’s father, Dantes Castillo, lost his house to Hurricane Irma. He lives in San Martin, the Dominican Republic.
“This has been a double punch,” Castillo said of the fate of her parents.
While Castillo’s family is physically safe, the hardship has only begun, especially in Puerto Rico. The entire island — 3.4 million people — was left completely dark by Maria. It could take months to restore power and have access to clean water, safe food and medical supplies.
Maria — just one mile per hour short of being classified a Category 5 storm — has claimed at least 16 lives in Puerto Rico. The hurricane toppled electricity poles and streetlights and leveled buildings large and small. Thousands of people remain in shelters.
Ortiz, a retired nurse, has moved in with her daughter in Catano, but there is still no electricity there and the running water comes and goes.
“They can’t sleep because the heat is horrible,” Castillo said. “They have to wait three hours to try to get gas. Sometimes you wait and wait for gas, and when you get to the front of the line, they are out. Imagine.”
Castillo said her sister had to throw out all her furniture because of the floodwater that entered her home during the storm.
“My mother said the smell is terrible,” Castillo said. “Everything smells rotten.”
Castillo, a 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter, is a Barry communications major due to graduate in May. She’s a good student who aspires to be a TV reporter, but during the time when she hadn’t heard from her mother, focusing on school and volleyball was beyond difficult.
“My mind wasn’t with me,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep. I would just watch the news on Puerto Rico.
“I wasn’t me. I’m usually very active on the court, but I was quiet. I cried every day.”
Castillo said that every time she sees images of the wreckage in Puerto Rico, it stings.
“It’s like Maria has run over our hearts,” she said. “I watch it, and I cry. It’s like I’m reliving the horror.”
Barry coach Steve Hendricks said Castillo, who is a team co-captain, did a good job hiding her pain during the time she had not heard from her mother.
But once she discovered her mom had survived, the relief was etched on her face.
“I gave her a hug — she was giddy,” Hendricks said. “Her whole demeanor changed. Even though her family lost everything, she was able to take a deep breath knowing they were alive.”