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Story highlights

Carmen Delgado finally makes it back to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Her children were OK, but nothing prepared her for what she saw at home

(CNN) —  

Pray. Wait. Hope. It’s all Carmen Delgado has been able to do for days and days.

A vacation in New Jersey had taken her and her husband, Edgardo, off Puerto Rico for a break. But then Hurricane Maria swept across the island, and all they wanted to do was get back to their home, and family.

They booked flight after flight – only to see them canceled.

They got word that their grown children were OK, but saw pictures that their house was not.

They just wanted to see for themselves, but they couldn’t get there.

Edgardo and Carmen Delgado are relieved to be back in Puerto Rico after arriving at San Juan's airport.
Brynn Gingras/CNN
Edgardo and Carmen Delgado are relieved to be back in Puerto Rico after arriving at San Juan's airport.

“I want to see my daughter. I want to see my son,” Carmen said. “We want to be there – maybe we can’t do much, but at least our presence there in Puerto Rico, that’s very important for us.”

So Carmen prayed. She waited. And she hoped.

Finally, their seats on a flight to San Juan were not canceled. They paid excess baggage fees to take in supplies, and tried to prepare themselves.

Cheers and applause broke out around the plane as it touched down in San Juan. Carmen wept a little.

She’d hoped her children – Zuhry, 25 and her 20-year-old brother – would have met them at the airport. With no cell phone service across most of the island there was no way to check in with them, so the couple grabbed a ride to their hometown.

The lush landscape of Puerto Rico was blown away by Maria.
Brynn Gingras/CNN
The lush landscape of Puerto Rico was blown away by Maria.

The reality of Maria’s devastation began to sink in as they drove an hour through shattered landscapes to Humacao.

“I didn’t think it was so bad,” Carmen said. “This is like fire just came through here and burned everything out. We’ve been through hurricanes, but this is the worst of all, this is the worst.”

Finally they get to their house, or what’s left of it.

The hurricane ripped the entire roof off Carmen Delgado's house in Humacao.
Brynn Gingras/CNN
The hurricane ripped the entire roof off Carmen Delgado's house in Humacao.

The roof is gone. Rooms have been tossed by the storm. Outside is a mess.

Once inside, Carmen feels faint. She sits down.

The garage was destroyed by the power of the hurricane.
Brynn Gingras/CNN
The garage was destroyed by the power of the hurricane.

“This is the living room, that’s the kitchen, we used to have three bedrooms,” she whispers.

“I’m totally shocked,” she adds. “This is nothing compared to my house. We had everything. It was so nice.”

She takes a breath and reminds herself these were just things, possessions that can be replaced.

It will take time. They will need help.

But finally they are together. Hours after reaching Puerto Rico, a familiar car drives up to the ruined house and out spill Carmen’s children. At last she gets to hug them.

Carmen Delgado finally gets the chance to hug her son and her daughter.
Brynn Gingras/CNN
Carmen Delgado finally gets the chance to hug her son and her daughter.

“Home is not a house,” Carmen says. “Home is family.”

On those terms, Carmen Delgado is home.

CNN’s Brynn Gingras and Laura Dolan reported from Puerto Rico, while Rachel Clarke wrote in Atlanta.