When Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty agent Devon Nichols booked a Carnival Cruise to the Caribbean with her best friend from college, she imagined she’d return home with a week’s worth of memories, an iPhone full of sunset and beach photos, and a tan.
Hurricane Irma had other plans.
Devon would return from the Caribbean a different person.
Initially, the vacation went as planned. In Puerto Rico, where the ship embarked, Devon, and her friend Jen fell in love with the spicy plantains and authentic Cuban tamales. In St. Thomas, they chatted with friendly locals, snorkeled, and soaked up the tropical September sunshine. Next, they explored the beaches of Barbados. The Carnival Cruise ship hop-scotched through paradise avoiding the hurricane and islands that had already been hit. With time, however, this became impossible.
Devon first saw the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in St. Lucia and St. Kitts. St. Martin was crossed off the itinerary due to the extremity of the destruction there. And then, when the ship docked in Puerto Rico where the voyage had begun, it was as though she was witnessing a live before and after photo. The hurricane had hit the island just two days before. Hurricane Irma was a category 5 – the highest possible on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale – which meant the winds were upwards of 157 mph.
In Puerto Rico powerlines, streetlights, and street signs were uprooted. The streets were covered in sand, palm trees, and debris. Cars were smashed. 90% of the island’s power was out. Cities and restaurants and businesses were pitch black other than candles and flashlights. And Devon and her friend were stranded there with no way of getting home.
During all this darkness, the positivity and strength of the Puerto Rican people was the brightest light. On their last night in Puerto Rico, their AirBnB host, who had even offered not to charge them because of their situation, suggested Devon and Jen go to an event called “La Placita” or “The Plaza.” Three blocks of bars and restaurants had pooled their resources to buy a generator – a considerable expense – to be able to put on the “La Placita.” Devon remembered, “Jen and I went, not knowing what to expect, and had one of the best nights of our lives. We were reminded of the genuine, loving and caring spirit of the Puerto Ricans. This “fiesta” type event seemed to be what was getting people through the tough times. There was salsa dancing, fantastic live music and DJs, Karaoke, and yes, plenty of alcohol. But this was a celebration of life! This was the community’s way of saying “You cannot hold us down. We will survive.” I will always regard that night as one of the best of my life.”
After Devon and Jen left, and only two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, another category 5 hurricane and the worst hurricane in Puerto Rican history. At least 112 people and 64 Puerto Ricans have been confirmed dead. Devon and her friend have been texting, emailing, and messaging their host on AirBnB, but have heard nothing back. Devon said, “We have no idea if he is ok, if his wife is ok, nothing. All of the cell towers are down, and we have no way to get ahold of him.”
The entire experience has forever changed Devon:
“Coming home after spending a week stuck in Puerto Rico, I felt different. The best way I know how to explain it is, I felt so awful and uncomfortable about how fortunate we all are, and how we all don’t REALLY realize just how fortunate we are… Until you experience something first hand, and truly see how less fortunate some are, it doesn’t hit you… I found myself deeply depressed once I got home. I felt guilty for having a car, an apartment, power, food, water I could drink out of the sink… a shower, clothes, Band-Aids. I was a completely changed person. Giving back was the only think I thought would make me feel better. I felt like I needed to work a lot harder to deserve this life that I live. So, I volunteered immediately to go to Tijuana for to help build homes along side my co-workers through Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty’s Agents of Change initiative. I spent the day volunteering and helping build a home for a very deserving family. I felt so important and appreciated by that family. I gave them a home… something we all take for granted sometimes. It made me feel better about myself, and I knew I would make service a regular part of my life.”
I feel that as a Realtor, it is my responsibility to help people purchase the biggest investment they’ll likely ever make. A house is so much more than a house… I truly believe the structure of a home enables the people inside to build a home. People in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas… and many other affected areas lost their homes during the two hurricanes. Their biggest investment they may have every made… gone within a few minutes. And who can they blame? No one. No one person is responsible for rebuilding that home. I feel that as a Realtor, I know just how important a home is, and if I am physically able to help, I need to. Everyone deserves a home. I feel that I need to help the people who aren’t receiving any help to get their home back that they have worked so hard to have.”
Devon has set up a Go Fund Me account with a donation goal of $1,500. In April she will be returning to Puerto Rico and/or St. Thomas (based on availability) with her friend Jen and multiple suitcases filled with supplies to help with the disaster relief. All of the Go Fund Me donations will go toward supplies and not travel expenses. She is 100% funding her own trip. She has been working with All Hands & Hearts Organization (www.allhandsandhearts.org) to keep up to date on what items are most needed, including clean water, mosquito repellant, clothes, medical supplies, batteries, flashlights, shoes, toiletries, sunscreen, safety goggles, work gloves, etc.
We are so proud of our agent and hope that you will help support her goal to support others.
Devon has asked that we share her contact information for anyone who would like to get in touch with her about the project:
Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty Agent Devon Nichols