Life After Maria
On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, destroying nearly everything in its path and cutting off the island from the rest of the world. A year later, the storm is long gone but the memories of near-death experiences and horrific suffering remain fresh for Puerto Ricans.
WUFT’s Grace King spent a week on the island to shine the light on the steely resolve of Puerto Ricans who refused to give up in the face of calamity. Here are some of her stories:
It’s a Fight For Power (El Yunque)
Mireya Rodriguez Fernandez, a senior project manager at PREPA, said Puerto Rico was doing well after Irma. The emergency reserves were fully stocked and sufficient to handle the damage.
Then came Maria.
The powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds up to 154 mph made landfall in Yabucoa, destroying the existing power system and causing an islandwide blackout.
“It collapsed 100 percent,” said Carlos Acevedo, director of the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency. “The electric power system of Puerto Rico is in the air – there is very little of it that is buried — so it is a system that is very vulnerable, a system that is very old.” Read more.
Water, Water, Everywhere (Toa Baja)
Javier cried for months. Life, he says, will never be the same.
Still, Javier, Maria and Victor are the lucky ones. They survived. So did Maria’s mother. The old and the poor were the most vulnerable during the storm.
Maria’s mother suffered a stroke and remains confined to her bed. She has not been able to leave the house and does not realize the severity of the storm’s toll on Toa Baja.
From their front porch, Maria and Victor look out onto the street they call home, Calle Espuela de Galán. Nearby, workers are clearing away debris. Read more.
Helping Hands Rebuild Lifelong Home (Trujillo Alto)
Gregoria Delgado Aponte sits on a chair in her living room as she recalls watching Hurricane Maria wreak havoc on her Trujillo Alto home as the force of the winds ripped planks of wood from its side.
“I said, ‘My God, do not let anything happen to me,’” Gregoria recalls, remembering how the sun had not yet risen behind the hills when the hurricane began pummeling the island with the harshest winds and rains it had seen in 85 years. “‘If you want to take them [planks of wood], take them away. But do not let anything happen to me.’”
Today, a blue tarp lays crumpled up outside her home. That tarp was the only roof it had for the past 11 months. Read more.
Comeback For Commerce (Old San Juan & Fajardo)
Méndez said he used to take a least two large groups a night through the mangroves into Puerto Rico’s Bahía Bioluminiscente, or bioluminescent bay, during the peak tourist season. The sparkling blue water used to attract tourists from across the island.
Now, he’s not even sure when “peak” business season is.
“It’s been up and down, very unpredictable,” Méndez said. He’s been in business for 18 years but estimated he can only last another six months to a year if tourism does not become more consistent. Read more.
As the sun rises above San Juan’s Peninsula de Cantera neighborhood, stray pigs roam the streets looking for scraps of food.
In one yard, nearly a dozen have gathered, oinking and waving their brown tails as they appear to debate what to do next. A man standing nearby says only one pig belongs to him; the rest, he believes, were abandoned after the storm.
Miles away, in towns like Yabucoa and Levittown, once-domesticated dogs and cats forage for food. Their bones poke out from their fur. Read more.
Making Strides (Fortaleza)
The island remains crippled to this day: Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans still don’t have roofs and its already-struggling economy hasn’t recovered, according to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. And despite claims that 100% of power has been restored on the island, many residents are still living in the dark.
WUFT’s Grace King spoke with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló about where responsibility lies and the ongoing recovery efforts.
You can watch or read the full interview here.