Winter Haven couple returns from nightmare vacation in Puerto Rico

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A Bay Area couple saw the destruction of Hurricane Maria first hand.

Sallie Cox and her husband, Louis Garcia were supposed to have the vacation of a lifetime at resorts in Puerto Rico.

But when they couldn't get off the island in time, they had no choice but to ride out the storm.

What they saw, they say they'll never forget.

Back at home in Winter Haven, Sallie and Louis are thankful to be safe, but the people of Puerto Rico will stay in their thoughts for a long time to come.

“These people are in desperation because their island is devastated,” Sallie said. “If I knew Maria was out there, there’s no way I would have [gone] to Puerto Rico.”

Sallie says storm forecasts were not predicting Maria ahead of their trip. It was days after they arrived on the island before the storm began to form.

“It was time to go. We need to get off this island. We need to get back to Florida,” Sallie remembers saying.

But it was too late. Planes were full and there was no way to get out. So they rode out the storm.

The couple documented their trip in photographs, before and after the storm.

The before photos are of the beautiful island scenery typical of any Caribbean vacation. The after photos are much different.

“Palm trees looked like they were just cut off at the base and they were just lying down wherever they fell,” Sallie recalls.  “The streets were flooded out.”

“The water was up to here,” she said, putting her hand just above her waist. “Completely flooded out. People were walking in their waste water. Their houses were flooded out. Their roofs were gone.”

Sallie says there is no comparison between seeing the conditions and person, rather than on TV.

“There are bridges out of commission. There are roads washed away. I mean, they don’t have anything,” Louis added.

They eventually got back to Florida by way of a private charter.

Louis has an 80-year-old brother who lives in Puerto Rico who he has still not heard from.