For a grandmother from the Bronx who fled Hurricane Maria’s devastation in her native Puerto Rico, the thought of her family waiting for her at Kennedy Airport brought her to tears.
Laly Woodards, 75, said she will never forget how she contemplated her fate in her room in the town of Anasco, listening to the storm turn the beauty of her birthplace into what she called a scene from “The Walking Dead.”
“Oh my god, I cried,” Woodards said of the moment her flight from San Juan touched down on the JFK runway Saturday afternoon.
“I thought I was going to die there. I thought I was going to die in that room and not be able to see my family again,” she said.
Woodards, who has two children and three grandchildren, was one of the latest to arrive in New York City after surviving the hurricane that ravaged the U.S. territory on Sept. 20.
The debilitating storm killed at least 16 people and left nearly all 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico without power and most without water.
The storm smashed poles, downed power lines and damaged electricity-generating plants, knocking out a grid that would be considered antiquated on the United States mainland. Generators are providing power to the fortunate few who have them.
Woodards, a retired social worker, lived in Puerto Rico until she was 9, before moving to the South Bronx.
Five days before the storm hit, she had traveled to the island to settle some business connected to a property sale. Though she had heard the storm warnings, she never thought it could get as bad as it did.
“From what I remember as a child living there, a storm this serious never happened there,” Woodards said. “Nobody thought it was going to be that serious.”
As she stayed at a niece’s house there, Woodards counted each hour from her room until the storm passed.
Once it did, she saw the real devastation.
There was no electricity or water. Food they had stored quickly ran out, and what was left in a freezer soon spoiled. Woodards, who has diabetes, said she ran out of some medications days after the storm passed.
The hot and humid days became unbearable. Showers were hard to come by.
Woodards and her niece relied on a garden hose in the back of the house that had a slow drip. It took three hours before there was enough water in a bucket to bathe.
After morning baths, Woodards walked to a nearby bakery where she ate bread — the only food available. All the while, she wondered if she would see her family again.
She said she often sat on the corner of her bed and prayed, having “deep thoughts about what could happen to me while I was there because no one was coming to check on us.”
She finally got hold of a phone late Friday night and called her son, Jon Woodards, to tell him she secured herself a flight home for the next day.
Upon her arrival in New York, Woodards was greeted by a group of family members. As she was escorted in a wheelchair, she grabbed her beaming grandson, Sebastian, 2.
Woodards does not usually use a wheelchair but said her feet had swollen from a lack of food and water.
“When I saw her today, it was like a big load off my shoulders,” said Jon Woodards, 46.
As they left the airport, Woodards knew where she wanted to go: to her favorite neighborhood diner for a pastrami sandwich with mustard and mayonnaise.
“I told them I wanted some meat,” Woodards said. “I haven’t had any protein in about seven days. Just carbs.”