Eau Claire County (WQOW) -- There's a happy ending to a story News 18 has been following for months. The Critchfield family is back in Mondovi after they were stranded in Puerto Rico for weeks because of Hurricane Maria.
Mom Julie Critchfield told News 18 Thursday, at first, living in Puerto Rico was paradise.
"We were about 100 yards from the beach," she said. "It was beautiful." But before long, storms started brewing. First, there was Irma.
"That was our first experience with a hurricane. It skinned our knees a little bit, we're out for three days with power -- whatever," Critchfield said. "But a couple weeks down the road, then my husband happened to look at the weather, 'Uh honey, um, I think we have another hurricane coming at us."
That hurricane was Maria.
"We prepared as best we could. It was slow moving, so we had a little more time to prepare for it," she told News 18, though she also said that extra time wasn't necessarily a good thing.
"Was like an impending doom almost because we knew it was coming, but it was slow to get there. I'm like, just get this over with," Critchfield recalled. She said once the hurricane did finally pass over the island, things went from bad to worse.
"It looked like a bomb went off," she said, "After about a week, we ran out of water. Food was getting low." Critchfield also told News 18 once the bottle water being handed out in their area was gone, they had to get creative to stay hydrated.
"What jars we had, we filled with water. Some we froze, some we kept underneath the counter," she said. "We need water! Where are we going to get the water? It rained really hard one day for a good five, ten minutes. Everybody was running out there with buckets."
Critchfield told News 18 after that before long ice became a hot commodity. Even now that they're back at home, she said it still catches her eye and she's compelled to buy.
"Ice was the big thing. The gold standard was getting ice," she said. "We went to Walmart to pick up some stuff [after getting home] and there it sat, this great big bag of ice. And I wanted to buy a big bag of ice thinking, 'We need this!' and no we don't, we're okay."
Eventually, Julie and one of her daughters had to begin rationing their medication because they didn't have an opportunity, or the money to refill prescriptions.
"There were some days we didn't take it."
And to make matter worse, Critchfield said, because the power was out it was extremely difficult to communicate with one another and get important news.
"Everything was by rumor," she said. "There's a rumor down here there's water, or FEMA's here. And you just have to go investigate, you have to go and check it out."
Both on the island and the mainland.
"Was able to call my dad and my brother," Critchfield said, "to say 'We're okay. We're alive.'" People back in Wisconsin tried sending the family supplies to survive, but Julie told News 18 those packages were being stolen. She said there's now an investigation into the misconduct.
Critchfield said her family got through the tough times by praying a lot and taking things one day at a time. But in the destruction, there was a ray of sunshine.
"We found out our post master was from Eau Claire," she said. "So, it was like a little bit of home."
The Critchfields said federal officials weren't around to help, so the people of Puerto Rico took matters into their own hands.
"We helped each other out," she remember, smiling, "helped others out when we could, when somebody needed rides somewhere."
"There was heavy equipment around, but no people from the government to do it. So people didn't wait for the government. They just, regular people, just hopped on the equipment, started doing the work themselves," Julie said. "Those people work so hard, and they're so determined to get back on their feet, but they don't have the resources necessary to do that and that's why they need the help."
After being stranded on the island for about a month, the family was finally able to fly back to the States on Thursday, October 26. But even that was a challenge.
"For us to get tickets, it took us a while," Critchfield said. "Every time I'd log on, fill the stuff out, 'Hey, we found some good tickets,' they'd be snapped up, they'd be gone." She said eventually they had a friend back home buy their tickets and promised to pay him back.
But Critchfield knows not everyone is as lucky.
"I worry about the people back home. Are they getting the help? Are they getting enough food? Are they getting the water that they need?"
That's why she said she's hoping people around the Chippewa Valley continue to show their support for Puerto Rico, like they did for her family.
"There are a lot of people around here that helped us out, that sent in care packages, and helped us out back home, making sure we have something to come back home to. And that was, that is very humbling," she said. "But the people back there don't have that."
Critchfield also told News 18 she'd like to go back to the island some day, but that trip won't be for at least a few years. And maybe next time, she'll just go for a cruise.