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"First-world culture shock" is how former Iowa State basketball player Chelsea Poppens describes her current state of mind.
"Electricity, cellphone, air conditioning — everything you take for granted," Poppens said by phone Tuesday about her re-entry to the U.S. on Sunday after a month in Puerto Rico that included living through Hurricane Maria and the first 11 days after it leveled the Caribbean island/U.S. territory.
Poppens, from Aplington, Iowa, went to Puerto Rico a month ago to play pro ball for Gigantes de Carolina in Carolina, about 15 miles from San Juan. Hurricane Irma caused serious infrastructural damage to the island in the first week of September, but life went on. Her team played two games. Then came Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.
Virtually the entire island lost power. Clean water became unavailable to most residents. Gas was hard to come by. The telecommunications infrastructure was almost completely destroyed.
Maria first struck Carolina at 4 a.m. Poppens and a teammate shared a house there. For 20 hours, they heard the crazy wind and the hard rain.
'It was a very long process, sitting in the dark,' Poppens said. 'It was like a tornado went through, but instead of 30 seconds it went on forever.
'We kind of ventured out on Day 3. It was pretty chaotic. Poles were down, trees were everywhere, roads were impassable.'
Yet, she was one of the relatively fortunate ones. Her neighbors had power generators, so she could recharge her cellphone. Her house didn't come apart and still had running water, so she could take showers. Which, she says, she did four times a day because of oppressive heat.
'It was terrible,' she said. 'You were constantly sweating. You dreaded nightfall, trying to sleep. You chose between being drenched in sweat or sitting around in a sport bra and shorts and having the bugs get you.'
It took three days before she was able to get word to her parents in Iowa that she was all right. To get cellphone reception, she would climb a large hill a few miles from her house and hope to catch a lucky moment or two, or drive to downtown San Juan and join many others in swiping wireless internet from outside a hotel.
One day, she waited four hours in a gas station line for fuel that never came that day.
The rest of her league's basketball season, which was scheduled through Dec. 7, obviously was canceled. Getting off the island was a challenge. Her scheduled flight last Saturday got canceled. So did her rescheduled flight Sunday morning. Finally, she got on a plane to Miami Sunday evening while many others remained camped out in San Juan's airport. She then drove two hours to her home of the last year in Fort Myers, Fla.
She has worked in medical sales in her basketball offseason, and is in an online MBA program at the University of Florida. After playing at Iowa State (and topping 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds), she has played in the WNBA, Australia, Poland and Switzerland.
'I want to play basketball as long as I can,' said Poppens, 26. 'It makes me happy.'
She went to Puerto Rico a year ago to play ball, but tore an ACL within a week of her arrival. But the Gigantes wanted her back, and she was grateful. Until Maria, anyhow.
'Puerto Rico hasn't been great to me,' she said with a sad laugh. But the island will never be fully in her rearview mirror.
Poppens said she and former Iowa State teammate Hallie Christofferson will start selling T-shirts designed by Christofferson to raise money for some of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico and don't have somewhere else to go.
'If I could have been of help, I'd have stayed there,' Poppens said. 'But now is not a rebuilding time. There's no power, no water. People are just trying to sustain themselves through the week.
'I would consider going back to when the rebuilding finally starts.'
Meanwhile, millions are there now in horrible situations. Despair is growing daily, and they need assistance.
'You can't really imagine it,' she said. 'If people can in any way help with supplies or support, I hope they will.'
Here is Poppens' blog post of Sept. 29, entitled 'Top 25 Struggles of Being in Puerto Rico Right Now…'