Sandra Salas’ favorite part of her trailer home in Raymondville was the prayer corner she set up in her bedroom. It was adorned with many crosses of different sizes and colors, and she would stick handwritten notes of her prayers on the wall next to them.
Safety for her grandchildren. A new car door. Joy for her family.
On July 26, the evening Hurricane Hanna swept through the Rio Grande Valley, the roof of Salas’ home was ripped off, crushing nearly everything inside, including her prayer corner.
As the strong rain of the storm continued to pound the region until the wee hours of the next day, all of her belongings were exposed and ruined.
It was by chance that Salas’ son, Johnny Salas — who with his 11-year-old daughter, Star Salas, also lived in the trailer home — told both of them to evacuate at around 5 p.m, less than an hour before the roof fell. This was also hours before the true wrath of the storm came.
While the duo were on their way to Salas’ sister’s house that Saturday, they received a call about the collapse, and that first responders were there, fighting to turn off the gas and salvage what they could.
With a worried and heavy heart, Sandra rushed back, just to see the place she called home for more than 15 years completely destroyed.
“I saw my house falling down. When people say that your world is closing in, that was that feeling,” she said.
This is the time when Sandra needs the comfort of her prayer corner the most.
The Category 1 hurricane dumped more than a foot of water on the region, leaving about 80,000 Valley residents without power.
The night of the storm, Johnny stayed inside their home to try to defend the trailer on his own, but he was no match to it. The walls of the home collapsed on him, and he sustained several bruises on his arms, back and legs.
“We have had several hurricanes before, but nothing had happened,” Sandra said. “I thought it (her trailer) was really sturdy, but I could feel the wind. This time it was really bad, it was really strong. We thought we might get hurt there for real this time, it felt different.”
Since the night of the storm, the three of them have been separated. Sandra has had to borrow clothes from family members. Star’s only shoes are the pair she wore that night.
Sandra has been living with her daughter, Cleopatra Olivarez. A couple days after the hurricane passed, she visited her mother’s home to see what was salvageable. Sandra lives in a rural neighborhood, and Cleopatra said the might of Hanna was clearly seen on that street; debris cluttered the roads, and many other houses along the street were damaged as well.
Her mom’s home was the worst, though. Nothing but a few drenched photos, a necklace and a small piggy bank could be saved.
“It would all crumble, it would all just crumble,” Cleopatra said.
Star’s first day of middle school is in the next few weeks, but her family has not had the time to even think about school. All instruction in the county because of the COVID-19 pandemic has been mandated to be delivered online, but Star does not have her hands on a device yet.
Cleopatra lived with her mom in that trailer home for about a decade, and said losing it has been hard for everyone in the family.
“We cried a lot about it. This was our home; we grew up there,” she said. “That is where we had our Fourth of Julys, kids birthdays, and spent a lot of our weekends there barbecuing. That’s where we had our celebrations.”
Sandra said she has been praying for comfort for her family.
“Prayers for peace, prayer for strength and patience,” she said. “We know that everything is replaceable, and that slowly we will recuperate what was lost… But of course I dream of going back, there’s no place like home.”
Some of that peace came Tuesday morning, when Sandra, Star and Cleopatra visited the toppled home. Since the storm, their dog Princess has been missing. Little did they know that the small dog has been guarding the home patiently for the past week.
They found her hiding under what is left of one of the bedrooms, right next to a box of photos. The joy of the reunion was a beacon of hope.
Cleopatra opened a GoFundMe page to raise money to help buy her mother a new home. The funds would also go toward a new home for her, and replacing everything the family lost to the storm.