A month after Maria hit, 80% of Puerto Rico still without power

  • In this early morning Sept. 20, 2017 photo, a young boy looks out the window as strong winds brought on by Hurricane Maria bend a palm tree and send debris flying, in Juncos, Puerto Rico. As rains began to lash Puerto Rico, Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned that Maria could hit "with a force and violence that we haven't seen for several generations." (AP Photo/Linda Rodriguez Flecha) Linda Rodriguez Flecha

  • FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2017 file photo, a picture window missing it's pane, frames the view of trees denuded in the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Maria made landfall early Sept. 20, entering through the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa, pummeling the island with severe winds and rain. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File) Carlos Giusti

  • FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2017 file photo, damaged and destroyed homes are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. It was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, destroying tens of thousands of homes and leaving tens of thousands of people without a job. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) Gerald Herbert

  • FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017 file photo, rescue personnel drive on a road flooded by the heavy rains brought on by Hurricane Maria, in Humacao, Puerto Rico. The storm swept across the island causing at least 48 deaths, according to the official tally. It caused widespread flooding and knocked out the entire power grid for the island of 3.4 million people. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File) Carlos Giusti

  • Smashed poles and snarled power lines brought down by Hurricane Maria are shown Sept. 20 in Humacao, Puerto Rico. AP FILE PHOTO

  • FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2017 file photo, horse carcasses lie on the side of the road in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Maria devastated Puerto Rico's agriculture, a small bright spot of economic growth in the U.S. territory mired in a decade-long recession and crushing debt. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File) Carlos Giusti

  • FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2017 file photo, women help each other onto the river bank after wading across the Rio St. Lorenzo de Morovis, after the bridge traversing the river was washed away by Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico. A week after the storm's passing many were waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) Gerald Herbert

  • FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2017 file photo, National Guard soldiers distribute water and food in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Distribution of basic resources including food and water lagged as Donald Trump's administration cited logistical and geographical challenges in delivering aid to a U.S. territory about 1,000 miles away from the mainland. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File) Carlos Giusti

  • FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2017 file photo, hundreds of people wait in line for hours to buy gasoline, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Some people were unable to work or run their businesses because diesel to run generators was in short supply. Others spent all day waiting for gas to fill their car. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File) Carlos Giusti

  • FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2017 file photo, Maria Antonia Perez looks out from her home damaged by Hurricane Maria, in the seaside slum La Perla, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The storm battered the setting of the video of the worldwide hit song "Despacito," ripping away the newly installed banners that directed tourists to spots the video was filmed. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File) Carlos Giusti

  • FILE - This Sept. 21, 2017 file photo shows the damaged home of Ashley Toledo's mother in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Punta Diamante, Puerto Rico. Authorities warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before Maria's expected arrival. "You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you're going to die," said Hector Pesquera, the island's public safety commissioner. "I don't know how to make this any clearer." (AP Photo/Jorge A Ramirez Portela, File) Jorge A Ramirez Portela

  • FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2017 file photo, neighbors sit on a couch outside their destroyed homes as the sun sets in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. The strongest hurricane to ever hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, officials predicted before Maria made landfall that it would decimate the power company's crumbling infrastructure and force the government to rebuild dozens of communities. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) Gerald Herbert

  • FILE - In this Oct. 14 2017 file photo, residents bathe in water piped from a mountain creek in Utuado, Puerto Rico. A month after Hurricane Maria made landfall, hundreds of thousands of people are still without running water, and almost half of the island's sewage treatment plants are out of service. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2017 file photo, police lift the coffin containing the remains of fellow officer Luis Angel Gonzalez, during his funeral at the cemetery in Aguada, Puerto Rico. Gonzalez died when he tried to navigate a river crossing in his car during the passing of Hurricane Maria. The Category 4 storm killed at least 48 people in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2017 file photo, trees felled by Hurricane maria rest on tombs at a cemetery in Lares, Puerto Rico. The storm thrust the island's territorial status into the international spotlight and revived sharp debate about its political future as the island of 3.4 million people attempts to recover from flooding, landslides and power and water outages. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2017 file photo, a woman washes her clothes with water piped from a mountain creek while Ramon Sortre Vazquez walks with his dog, in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Several generations of the Sortre family rode out Hurricane Maria in a neighbor's concrete home, listening to ferocious wind flinging wood and other debris against the roof and hoping it wasn't pieces of their own wooden houses. Their hopes were crushed when they emerged the morning after the storm. (AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa, File Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd at Calvary Chapel in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Trump congratulated Puerto Rico for escaping the higher death toll of "a real catastrophe like Katrina" and heaped praise on the relief efforts of his administration without mentioning the sharp criticism the federal response has drawn. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) Evan Vucci

  • FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2017 file photo, a monkey walks over the rubble left in the wake of Hurricane Maria on Cayo Santiago, known as Monkey Island, in Puerto Rico. One of the first places Maria hit in the U.S. territory Sept. 20 was Monkey Island, a 40-acre outcropping off the east coast that is one of the world’s most important sites for research into how primates think, socialize and evolve. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2017 file photo, Roberto Figueroa Caballero sits in his wall-less home in the sea side slum La Perla, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Figueroa, who wanted to stay at home with his dog during the storm, said he was evicted by police and taken to a shelter for the night. When he returned the next day and saw what was left of his home, he decided to put his salvageable items back where they originally were, despite no walls, saying that it freed his mind. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2017 file photo, a jeep drives through a low water crossing where there a bridge but was washed away during the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Maria dropped more than 12 inches of rain in some areas and generated up to 30-foot waves. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • In this Oct. 15, 2017 photo, electrical lineman work on transmission towers in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. Gov. Ricardo Rossello says he is pushing for outside aid to restore electricity and his goal is to have it back for half the island by Nov. 15 and for 95 percent by Dec. 31. But he conceded the task of rebuilding the transmission and distribution network is enormous. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2017 file photo, a member of the Puerto Rican National Guard delivers food and water delivered by helicopter for victims of Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Gov. Ricardo Rossello praised federal and state officials for the resources and help they have provided, but he also noted that Puerto Rico has long been struggling because of its territorial status. "I invite all of you to consider, to think of Puerto Ricans as your constituents," said Rossello. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2017 file photo, Eduardo Pagan Figueroa points to the watermark showing the height flood waters reached before receding, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Pagan, who is living in a school-turned-shelter, said his home is unsafe to live in and is hoping to get government help to rebuild. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2017 file photo, Midiam Rivera cries as she and a Housing Ministry official survey her home that was destroyed in the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Rivera, a mother of three, lost all her possessions when the devastating storm hit on Sept. 20. Rivera was offered help by the government to repair her home. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

  • FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2017 file photo, Luis Sierra sleeps in a classroom at a school-turned-shelter after Hurricane Maria left him and other families homeless, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. All 1,113 public schools remain closed, though 167 have served as community centers for children and elderly people to spend part of each day and get breakfast and lunch. The education department announced that it was raising the number of campuses used in this way to 190. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File) Ramon Espinosa

Associated Press
Published: 10/19/2017 10:31:25 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — One man climbs 24 flights of stairs several times a day alongside dormant elevators. Street vendors hawk plastic washboards for $20. And families outstretch their hands as crews in helicopters drop supplies in communities that remain isolated.

This is life one month after Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. territory on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm that killed at least 48 people, destroyed tens of thousands of homes and left tens of thousands of people without a job. It was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, with winds just shy of Category 5 force.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” retired schoolteacher Santa Rosario said as she scanned empty shelves at a supermarket in the capital of San Juan that had run out of water jugs — again.

Maria caused as much as an estimated $85 billion in damage across an island already mired in an 11-year recession. That has complicated and delayed efforts to restructure a portion of a $74 billion public debt load that officials say is unpayable. And it has thrust Puerto Rico’s territorial status into the international spotlight, reviving a sharp debate about its political future as the island of 3.4 million people attempts to recover from flooding, landslides and power and water outages.

Roughly 80 percent of power customers remain in the dark, and another 30 percent are without water. Schools remain closed. Stoplights are not operating. And while nearly 90 percent of supermarkets have reopened, many have bare rows of shelves empty of goods ranging from water to bananas to canned tuna.

“We’re not eating well,” said 28-year-old maintenance worker Pedro Lopez as he took a break from cleaning a damaged apartment complex. “It’s a lot of white rice and fried eggs.”

Near where he stood, massive tree trunks, pieces of zinc roofs and soggy items including mattresses still lined the street — a scene common across the island.

Less than half of Puerto Rico’s cellphone towers are operating, and only 64 percent of bank branches have reopened, some of them with dead outdoor ATMs whose empty screens prompt a roll of eyes from people seeking to withdraw money.

A brown haze has settled over parts of the island as more and more generators are turned on to light hospitals, homes and even the power company itself. In turn, the number of asthma cases and thefts has increased.

Newly precious generators have been stolen from places including a nursing home, an airport cargo terminal and a hospital.

Nearly 5,000 people remain in shelters, with many using rainwater to shower.

“Life has changed dramatically,” said Gilberto Del Orbe, 50, who used to install marble and gypsum board. “I’ve had no work. Everything is paralyzed.”

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a $36.5 billion disaster aid package for places including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and now a group of Democratic lawmakers are pushing for tax relief, saying that people and businesses in both U.S. territories affected by Hurricane Maria receive unequal treatment compared with U.S. states.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency also has pledged more than $171 million to help restore power across the island, and it has distributed more than $5 million to municipalities in need, as well as $ 1 million to Puerto Rico’s National Guard.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez said the storm set Puerto Rico back 20 to 30 years, and while generators, food, water and other types of aid are still being flown and shipped to the island, people say it’s not enough.

“We lost our home and we lost our car,” said Lisandro Santiago, a 42-year-old carpenter who started work just a week ago and was overseeing a crew repairing an apartment complex.

He and his wife, their three children and his mother-in-law are staying in a 13-by-9 foot (4-by-2.7 meter) room that remained unscathed as the hurricane ripped the rest of their home apart in the north coastal town of Dorado. “I’m leaving Friday for Massachusetts. I can’t stay here.”

He is among tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans trying to restart life in the U.S. mainland after losing homes or jobs or both after the storm. Those who remain behind say the post-hurricane conditions are draining them.

The complaints posted on social media or shared over beers or candlelight dinners are multiplying: Weight loss. Roaring generators. Sporadic sleep in oppressive heat. Swarms of mosquitoes. Worsening traffic jams. Breakouts of pinkeye. Hands rendered raw by daily clothes washing.

Celebrations of power coming back on in certain neighborhoods are often brief: A litany of happy exclamation points following messages of elation posted on social media are usually replaced a day later by angry emojis.

Many use social media to post endless questions on post-hurricane help: where to find fans with batteries (nowhere so far); where to find affordable baby sitters as some parents return to work while schools remain closed (Many suggested finding unemployed friends); what’s the best way to wash clothes by hand (A majority of votes went to someone who suggested placing them in a big garbage bag with water and soap and shaking it vigorously).

“If it continues like this, a lot of people are going to leave,” said Rosario, the retired schoolteacher. “But not me. I will stay here.”

She paused and then continued to push her cart through the aisles, searching for new food options after having eaten sandwiches of canned chicken and asparagus for breakfast, lunch and dinner.




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