Local natives living in Puerto Rico share Hurricane Maria story

HOLLAND, Mich.-- A West Michigan family living in Puerto Rico has finally been reunited in Grand Rapids after weeks apart following Hurricane Maria.

John Hoogeveen and his family have lived in Puerto Rico for three years working as missionaries. They were separated following relief efforts on neighboring islands, but are now back together.

It's been a hectic few weeks for the Hoogeveen family.

After making it through Hurricane Irma, the family traveled to other islands to help with relief efforts, that is when Hurricane Maria hit their home in Dorado, Puerto Rico.

After two weeks apart with barely any communication, the family is now back together.

It was early Saturday morning that the Hoogeveen family was reunited at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.

"We went from San Juan to Orlando to Memphis to Chicago to Grand Rapids," explained 15-year-old Dallas Hoogeveen.

It was a long, stressful day of traveling, but the family is happy to be back together.

"It was really hard," said John Hoogeveen. "I can't describe the feeling."

John Hoogeveen and his wife have worked as missionaries in Dorado, Puerto Rico, located about 30 miles outside of San Juan, since 2014 with their three children. They made it through Hurricane Irma with minimal damage, but Hurricane Maria was a different story.

"We were in a closet with no windows, three dogs, my mom, my brother and I for 14 hours just listening to the wind howl and hoping everything outside is okay," said Dallas Hoogeveen.

Dallas, her mother and brother were forced to hunker down in their home during the category five hurricane.

"It was really scary because you couldn't see what was going on outside," said Dallas Hoogeveen. "You can only judge it from your perspective in there and we knew it was going to be pretty bad."

Their neighbors' homes were completely destroyed. All the while, John and his oldest son were stuck on the island of St. Thomas.

"There's like this sense of me not being there with them and I don't know what's happening," said John Hoogeveen. "It was really hard to process and I didn't know how to process it."

The family is staying with family in Holland, Michigan for now, but they were forced to leave their three dogs at a friend's house in Puerto Rico.

"We have no definite plans of moving back here or moving back there, we have no idea," said John Hoogeveen. "It's really all up in the air right now. I don't even know what it depends on, we just haven't even talked about it."

As far as relief efforts, John says it's not about the lack of people wanting to help, but rather there's no way to distribute the items.

"Right now there's 3,000 shipping containers just sitting there in the San Juan port that can't be accessed because there's no gas and there's no truck drivers," said John Hoogeveen. "Even if the President wanted to dump a whole bunch of stuff there, they can't get it to people. There's no way to get it to them."

John says the island needs people on the ground to help, especially truck drivers and gasoline. He also hopes people don't forget about them.

"We have friends there who have nothing and they're going to have nothing for a long time," said John Hoogeveen. "We had to leave everybody we knew behind. We had to leave all of our stuff behind. We had to leave our dogs behind. This has become real to us. It's no longer a story to us. This is our story. This is our reality."

If you'd like to donate to relief efforts in Puerto Rico, you can mail checks and mail to Barnabas Ministries,  9479 Riley Suite 200, Zeeland, MI, 49464 or go to their website. You can donate online and designate donations to 'Puerto Rico'.

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