He waited in a gas line for 10 hours in 97-degree heat.
His car ran out of gas while he waited in line.
He is down to his last case of Gatorade.
“I am learning the definition of hell first hand,” said Tom Steinke, a retired American businessman who grew up in Southern California and lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he is trying to survive after the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. “Talk about trapped.”
When he finally pushed his car toward the pump, Steinke watched the gas station be overrun by police cars, federal cars and cars driven by friends of the station’s owner. They were all allowed to get gas first.
Steinke said in an interview conducted via Facebook and text message he was worried late in the afternoon Wednesday, Sept. 27 he wouldn’t be allowed to buy the allotted $20 worth of gas. That’s a quarter tank in his Suburban, and that isn’t enough.
His worst fears came true. He was five cars away from the pump when the gas station ran out of gas.
The former CEO of medical device companies Vessix Vascular and Minnow Medical, Steinke, 55, moved to San Juan 3 1/2 years ago to enjoy the Caribbean lifestyle. He has a JetBlue plane ticket for next Wednesday, and he hopes his flight isn’t canceled so he can flee.
Steinke grew up in Lakewood and went to college at National University in San Diego. He said he was attracted to Puerto Rico because of the “U.S. lifestyle – the shopping, restaurants, cinema, theater and opera.”
He lives in an oceanfront high-rise that he had to leave at the height of the storm. To escape, he traveled 30 miles west to the town of Manati to stay with friends in a concrete house. Steinke was stuck in the fortified home until downed trees were cleared and flood waters receded.
He spent his time doing two things in Manati: helping clear debris and searching for gas for generators.
“The fuel shortage is critical here,” he said. “The government says there is plenty, but in reality there is an extreme shortage. Imagine living without electricity.”
When he returned to his beachfront apartment – he lives on the ninth floor – he didn’t find serious damage. The generator in his building is working. It is turned on for an hour each morning and an hour each night. That’s when residents flush the toilet or take a shower.
“I feel lucky,” he said.
Steinke said he has been swimming in the nearby Atlantic Ocean to clean off.
He and people all over the island are in dire need of drinking…