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Springfield resident returns home after surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

Cambridge College Springfield Faculty Member Alvilda Sophia Anaya-Alegria
Cambridge College Faculty Member Alvilda Sophia Anaya-Alegria stands before one of several public art murals she created in Guayama, PR. She recently returned from Puerto Rico after being stranded there after Hurricane Maria. Photo credit: Elizabeth Roman

Standing in filthy water up to her ankles at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Alvilda Sophia Anaya-Alegria could not fully grasp what was going on around her.

"I was -- I still am -- in complete shock," said Anaya-Alegria, a native of Puerto Rico who lives in Springfield and teaches fine art and economics at Cambridge College in Springfield.

She returned from the island Sunday night after experiencing one of the worst hurricanes to hit Puerto Rico in decades. The Category 5 Hurricane Maria tore through the U.S. territory Sept. 20, causing widespread destruction and killing 16 people, according to the Puerto Rico government.

Anaya-Alegria spent three days in the airport and had her flight canceled five times.

"The devastation is all-encompassing, it's everywhere you look," she said.

She had traveled to the island Sept. 12 to spend a few weeks in Ponce at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena.

Assistance for Puerto Rico after hurricaneFine-tuning the help directed to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico was the theme of meetings and a press conference held on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 with representatives from Holyoke, Springfield, Chicopee and Westfield, officials said in Holyoke.

"The institute is directed by Milagros Castro Santana in San Juan and co-curated by Anibal Ernesto Rodriguez Ayala in Ponce. I am working with them on a historical piece sharing the neoclassical architecture of Guayama," she said.

The Architecture Museography project will be created in collaboration with Kate Preissler, the director of the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, she said.

Anaya-Alegria has traveled to Puerto Rico several times this year to work on a public art mural for the plaza in her hometown, Guayama.

"Guayama is said to have one of the most beautiful town plazas in Puerto Rico," she said, noting that the town and the plaza have suffered major damage, but her mural is intact.

"I didn't get to see it before I left, but I have a sister there who was able to reach me and tell me it survived the hurricane," she said.

Although they knew the hurricane was coming, people did not seem alarmed in the days leading up to it, Anaya-Alegria said.

destruction from hurricane"There was a sense that this hurricane was not going to happen. Hurricane Irma had come through and it had not been that bad for most people, so I think people were not anticipating a hurricane of this magnitude," she said.

Days before the hurricane, people went through the usual routine of boarding up windows and buying extra water and food and preparing for power outages, she said.

"The people I was staying with, we all went around to the neighbors and helped them secure their houses, board their windows," she said. "We bought the water that was left and canned food."