The forces of nature, community and kindness

An inspiring guest shares her story of resilience after Hurricane Maria.
By Airbnb on Aug 24, 2023
4 min read
Updated Aug 24, 2023


  • When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the storm subsided after a week but the impact lasted for years

  • Carmen, a community organizer and caregiver, was displaced when Maria damaged her home

  • Through a partnership between and SBP, Carmen stayed at a nearby Airbnb while her home was rebuilt

We are inspired by our guests and Hosts who share meaningful stories of connection, resilience, and community during times of crisis. This month, we’re honoring Carmen Suriel, a Puerto Rico resident who was affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017.’s partnership with SBP helps provide temporary housing for guests like Carmen while their homes are under repair.

Carmen Suriel’s home is her personal sanctuary. It’s filled with lush green trees dangling passionfruit, plantain leaves reaching for the sky, tropical flowers pouring out of the front gate, and Coni, a cloud-white rabbit silently guarding Carmen’s garden. 

“He likes to model,” Carmen jokes about the serious, yet adorable, rabbit. But Carmen is a model too—a role model. 

Born in the Dominican Republic, Carmen has been living in Puerto Rico since she was 17. She is a single mother to her adult son Emmanuel, who recently moved back to the Dominican Republic and started a family. 

Carmen is also a caregiver to the elderly, a role that calls for her to be selfless and protective. And when Hurricane Maria affected Puerto Rico in 2017, Carmen and her community came together to rebuild and heal.

Carmen is known as a unifier in her community. When an elderly man became ill, she arranged for her neighbors and herself to bring him supplies—bedsheets, towels, and more. And while he was hospitalized, she helped care for him. 

She says her community supports one another in this way often: Neighbors give rides to doctor's appointments, help with home repairs, and fix each other’s cars. “There’s a lot of sensitivity here,” Carmen smiles. “People really love to help.”

During Hurricane Maria, Carmen stayed with an elderly woman she was caring for, who lived on the third floor of an apartment building in Miramar, Santurce. “I had to stay with her for seven days straight, as the other person taking care of her could not get back to work because the roads were blocked with trees,” Carmen explained.

As gallons of water and parts of trees fell into her patient’s balcony, Carmen did her best to gather all of the debris without her noticing. Carmen was determined to keep her unaware of the storm happening outside. But they could still hear the fierce winds howling through the home.

“I've never seen a hurricane as strong as that one,” Carmen says. “They tell you about hurricanes, but experiencing it is a different story. To be told is not the same as seeing.”

Carmen returned home to find her house severely damaged. Her roof caved in, the floorboards flooded, and she was without power for months.

Hurricane Maria subsided within a week, but the side effects lasted for months and evolved into years. Neighborhoods experienced power outages, homes were destroyed, and more than 3,000 lives were lost. Grassroots organizations were among the first to support disaster response efforts and continue to rebuild the island.

Mutual aid—a community-led system in which people support each other by sharing resources, money, and time—played an important role in Puerto Rico’s recovery. It is still seen today with nonprofit organizations like partner SBP, a social impact organization focused on disaster resilience and recovery.

SBP is a nonprofit that rebuilds homes after major disasters. Deployment teams were sent right after the hurricane; the official Puerto Rico chapter started in July 2018. SBP and partner together to ensure people have places to stay while their homes are under renovation.

“We’re in a hurricane-prone zone, so we’ve experienced storms and hurricanes before. But not anything to the extent of Maria,” says Edgardo Maldonado, Executive Director of SBP Puerto Rico and a member of Carmen’s community.

Carmen’s neighborhood was the first community SBP helped in Puerto Rico, and Carmen's home was Edgardo’s first assignment in 2019. Edgardo and the SBP contractors weren’t aware of how much damage there was in Carmen’s home until they started getting to work. They soon realized that the wood was rotting and the electrical wiring and roof needed to be replaced.

Through the generosity of our community, Carmen and her dog were able to stay with a Host named Angel, who provided a comfortable space for her right in the same neighborhood.

“I think Carmen was very happy to know that her (stay) was in the same community, “ Edgardo says. The proximity allowed Carmen to bring her dog back home daily to feed her, and toward the end of reconstruction, Carmen helped paint her home along with the volunteers and contractors.

“My house looked abandoned, like no one was living in it,” Carmen says. “Now the house looks good and is safer. My neighbors also received some help (from other organizations). I feel like the blessing was spread around the community.”

Carmen remembers her stay with fondness and joy. As a caregiver who is used to nurturing others, this was a moment for the roles to reverse. Getting rest away from home, without being too far from home, was her favorite part. “Oh, and the air conditioning,” Carmen chuckles.

As Carmen mused on the strengths of her character, her community, and her home, she brought herself back to nature. “I've been through tough battles and difficulties. But after all, I'm a Scorpio,” she says. “We're the only one in the Zodiac that has three: the flying bird, the crawling serpent, and the scorpion. We survive, even underground.”


  • When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the storm subsided after a week but the impact lasted for years

  • Carmen, a community organizer and caregiver, was displaced when Maria damaged her home

  • Through a partnership between and SBP, Carmen stayed at a nearby Airbnb while her home was rebuilt

Aug 24, 2023
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