Life after Hurricane Maria mostly back to normal for Colorado couple living in Puerto Rico

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Britton and Cassie Kauffman with their baby Aiden in Rincon, Puerto Rico earlier this month. The couple from Weld County, Colorado retired early and moved to Puerto Rico five years ago. Last year, they rode out Hurricane Maria in the home they built by hand.

RINCON, Puerto Rico — When Britton and Cassie Kauffman of Weld County, Colorado moved to paradise five years ago, the biggest storm in more than a century wasn’t even on their radar.

But Hurricane Maria certainly did give them a scare.

FOX31’s Jeremy Hubbard recently visited Puerto Rico and caught up with the Colorado couple at their home in the west-coast surf town of Rincon, where they rode out the storm last year in the wooden house they constructed themselves.

“It was a little bit scary because the governor of Puerto Rico had said, ‘If you stay in a wooden house, you will die.’ That was, like, the words he used. And we were in a wooden house,” Cassie Kauffman told FOX31.

Their home was supposed to be their peaceful, quiet getaway. The Kauffmans honeymooned in Puerto Rico in 2005 and fell in love with the place.

“And we thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be neat to not have to come back, to stay on vacation, and stay in a different climate and in a different world?'” Britton Kauffman said.

So, they made it happen. They saved their money and retired in their 30s. They then packed up everything back home in Colorado and bought a lush piece of land a mile from the beach in Puerto Rico. Then, they started construction on their new home.

When they built the house, they made a crucial decision that would pay off when Hurricane Maria hit: where they built the home. It sits below a ridge, surrounded by hills on every side. That decision protected their home from Maria’s catastrophic winds when they first slammed the Kauffmans’ property on Sept. 20, 2017.

“The storm slowed down as it passed through Puerto Rico, so it was hovering over the island a little longer than they usually do. It was scary,” Britton said.  “Just wind and rain relentlessly… and we could tell where it was at. The communications were knocked out. So, we started to notice the wind direction changing and where it was shifting. And we drew our own little weather maps to figure out where the storm probably was.”

For more than 24 hours, their home was hit with Maria’s full force, and they had no way to calm the fears of their loved ones in Colorado.

“Our family thought that we had completely died,” Cassie said.

But the Kauffmans were fine. Their house was nearly unscathed because of where they built it, tucked into the hills. Despite just a little bit of damage to the property, the struggle was really about to set in. They had no power, no water, no phone, no transportation. When they finally got a call through to family back home in Greeley?

“Tears… a lot of tears. A lot of ‘thank Gods,’ ‘thank goodness they’re alive,’ that was the reaction,” Cassie explained.

As for life returning to normal, they were some of the lucky ones. They were only without electricity and running water for two and a half months — a relatively short amount of time compared to others in Puerto Rico.

Fast forward a year, and the trees have grown back, the broken limbs have been cleared. Life in paradise is just the way it was before Maria. With one exception: their new baby boy Aiden. He’ll grow up on the island of Puerto Rico, surrounded by forests and fruit, flowers and foul. It is a far different childhood than his parents had in Colorado. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s not always easy, but it is beautiful. It is a beautiful life. [A] very rewarding experience,” Cassie said.

Watch FOX31’s story on the Kauffmans below:

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