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Where Hurricane Maria First Made Landfall, Songs Memorialize The Tragedy

Sep 20, 2018
Originally published on September 24, 2018 4:28 pm

Alberto Carrión got out of bed while it was still dark Wednesday morning, and as he drove the winding road toward Puerto Rico's eastern coast, he looked up at the clouds through his drizzled windshield and worried.

"Please don't let it rain," he thought to himself. "Oh, no, please don't let it rain."

Carrion is a well known singer and composer in Puerto Rico, and on Wednesday morning, the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria's destructive tear across the island, he was driving toward Yabucoa, the town where the hurricane made landfall.

It had been announced that on this morning, he would be commemorating the tragedy by singing one of his beloved songs — about the Puerto Rican sunrise — at the exact spot where the hurricane came ashore. The rocky coast of Yabucoa and the voices of a University of Puerto Rico choir would be his backdrop. The eyes of the island would be on him.

When he arrived, the television cameras and microphones had been set up. The choir was getting into position.

The rain held off.

He took his place leaning against the trunk of a palm tree, lifted his guitar, and at precisely 6:15 a.m. — the time that Maria made landfall — he began to sing.

For the rest of the day, Amanecer Borincano, his song about sunrise over Puerto Rico, could be heard wafting from car speakers and television sets across an island still recovering from last year's tragedy.

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A year ago today, Hurricane Maria cut a destructive path across Puerto Rico, flattening the power grid, destroying tens of thousands of homes and ultimately causing an estimated 3,000 deaths. The first town hit, the place where Maria made landfall, was Yabucoa. And that's where NPR's Adrian Florido was this morning.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Margarita Torres Rivera lives in Yabucoa in a little house overlooking the Atlantic. She watched the storm come in and remembers that Wednesday morning a year ago as if it were yesterday.


FLORIDO: "It was like a fury," she says. "We all just resigned ourselves to God's will and prayed that he'd have compassion for our island." She says the recovery over the last year has been difficult because of mistreatment from the federal government and from President Trump.

RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Today she says she decided not to think about the troubles of the last year but to try to look ahead. So this morning, she woke up before sunrise and took a little walk to a point overlooking the ocean. Alberto Carrion, a well-known composer, had come to sing a song with the choir from the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey.

ALBERTO CARRION: (Singing in Spanish).

This song represents, like, a new beginning. Like, it's called "Amanecer Borincano," which is a Borinquen sunrise.

FLORIDO: Borinquen is a precolonial name for Puerto Rico.

AMARILIS PAGAN-VILA: This is the exact place where the hurricane Maria came into the island last year.

FLORIDO: Amarilis Pagan-Vila is the choir's conductor.

PAGAN-VILA: So we wanted to commemorate that day singing this song that speaks about waking up again with a new spirit. And we wanted to do that song exactly at the time, 6:15, when Hurricane Maria came into the island.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: The performance was carried by many local TV and radio stations, a brief respite for many Puerto Ricans still struggling to recover from last year's tragedy. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.