Photos by Elaine Cromie; Words by Bianca Fortis
On Sept. 20, a Category 4 hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving much of the island in ruins and its more than 3 million inhabitants helpless.
Hurricane Maria is the worst natural disaster to hit Puerto Rico and recent reports indicate the death toll may be over 1,000.
Recovery has been slow. Though today marks 100 days since storm hit the island, a U.S. territory, still more than 30 percent of the population lacks electricity, even in some metropolitan areas. According to one estimate, the damage to the island may cost up to $95 billion.
Puerto Rico's economy was already struggling, and only time will tell how long it will take for the island to rebuild itself. Small business owners in particular are struggling, and those located in San Juan will impacted by a lack of tourism.
Today we are taking a look back at some of the stories we covered in Puerto Rico when we visited in the weeks following the storm. For more of our work, some of which was published by Vox on Instagram, search #dispatchesfrompuertorico on the platform.
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Javier Lopez is 18-years-old but a severe case of Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome leaves him unable to walk, talk or be at all independent.
"He's like my eternal baby," his mother, Zaida Lopez, told us.
The storm has left their home in Barranquitas, located in the central, mountainous region of the island, without electricity or even running water, potentially life-threatening circumstances for Javier. Lopez and her husband Luis are considering relocating to Florida to better care for Javier, as well as their 14-year-old daughter Angelica who was out of school because the building was being used to house refugees. They're hoping that the electricity and water will restored soon so they don't have to uproot their lives. Read more about the Lopez family in our story for the Detroit Free Press.
Finding drinking water proved to be a challenge. Many stores didn't carry it, and those that did rationed their supplies. Many people, especially in more areas, collected water from outdoor streams and rivers. But some of that water was contaminated with Leptospirosis an infectious disease that is transmitted through animal urine. Originated The post-Maria outbreak is is thought to have begun in Canóvanas, a small coastal municipality located just outside the capital of San Juan.
On our final day of the trip, we came across a line of what looked like 1,000 people waiting to register for FEMA disaster assistance. The event was chaotic; no one knew when FEMA would arrive and there were limited bathrooms and food available. One woman waiting told us that she’d been able to find drinking water in stores, but had been collecting rainwater for bathing and other uses inside her home.
Despite all of the hardship we witnessed, there was one common theme we found whenever we interviewed someone: resiliency. Puerto Ricans know they have a long road ahead, but they are prepared to do whatever they need to survive. The people we spoke to expressed gratitude that they were alive and in relative good health. We met many people who had come up with clever ways to work and make money, including a pair of brothers who moved their barbershop outdoors so they could connect their equipment to car batteries since they didn't have a generator inside their brick and mortar shop.