After Hurricane Maria's Destruction, Connecticut Father Gets His Sons Out Of Puerto Rico

Oct 23, 2017
Originally published on October 23, 2017 9:19 pm
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Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last month, families have been struggling to reconnect and working to get relatives off the island to the mainland. Jeff Cohen of member station WNPR found a father with that mission on a plane between Hartford and San Juan. The Connecticut man is divorced and hadn't seen his sons in five years. He decided it was time to bring them home.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: Guillermo Class just couldn't wait anymore. The reports he was getting from his two teenage sons living in Puerto Rico weren't good. Food and water were getting to them and their mother, but not enough.

GUILLERMO CLASS: I just spoke to my son the other day. He said they bought food. They bought water. There wasn't much. And whoever got, got, and whoever didn't, didn't get, you know? So for me to know that I'm in Hartford, Conn., I could wash three cars with all the water we got. I got a refrigerator full of food. And knowing that my kids are going through what - you know, practically going to bed hungry, I can't.

COHEN: So he did what he had to do to raise the cash to get himself on a plane to San Juan and to bring his boys back to Hartford where they were born.

G. CLASS: I had to sell my car to buy the plane tickets. I had to sell my vehicle so I could buy the plane tickets and have money in my pocket so I could get them out of Puerto Rico. And that doesn't bother me because that's what you got to do as a father.

COHEN: Class says he got $1,700 for his 2003 Jeep Liberty. It was in decent shape, and he could have gotten more, but he was desperate. That's how he came to be among those on a direct flight from Connecticut to San Juan Monday.

Class says he grew up in the Bronx but has lived for the past 15 years in Hartford. The boys live with their mother, her partner and two young siblings on the island. He said she's not ready to leave, but the boys are. So he sold the only collateral he had to raise the money he otherwise couldn't make, all with one goal - to bring his boys to safety. Just before he boarded the plane, he had a phone call with one of his sons.

G. CLASS: And he was like, I can't wait to see you. I can't wait. You know, they just can't wait. I told him, don't worry. Relax. I told you I'm going for you. I told them I'm going to pick you guys up. And I kept my word. I said, I'll be there in a few. So I told them, it's just a couple hours and I'll be there. I told them, I'm going to get you out of Puerto Rico.

COHEN: And a few hours later, he was about to make good on his promise.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: JetBlue welcomes you to San Juan.

COHEN: Once the plane landed, we had to run to keep up with Guillermo Class as he went to meet his sons.

G. CLASS: There he goes, right there. Those are my boys right there.

COHEN: The three of them - William, Joemar and Guillermo - hugged a lot. Then they stopped. Then they hugged some more as they waited for bags. The boys said they'd been OK. There'd been some food and some water. But they say they know that for a time, good opportunities will be hard to come by in Puerto Rico. So Joemar says he wants to go to Hartford to finish school for his future.

JOEMAR CLASS: (Speaking Spanish).

COHEN: For your future?

J. CLASS: Yeah.

COHEN: (Speaking Spanish).

J. CLASS: And play baseball.

G. CLASS: I feel good now that I see them. Yep. They're big boys. I haven't seen them in, like, four years, five years. (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Speaking Spanish).

G. CLASS: About five years. They're going back home with me. That's for sure.

COHEN: And for a time at least, home won't be in Puerto Rico. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen in San Juan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.