Pablo Figueroa, of Punta Santiago in Puerto Rico, keeps his belongings wedged into a corner of his home, the only spot where the roof remains after Hurricane Maria destroyed his home. Photo: The New York Times

By Frances Robles and Jugal K. Patel
20 September 2018

PUNTA SANTIAGO, P.R. (The New York Times) – When it rains, Maritza Cruz Sánchez springs into a well-rehearsed, 30-minute ritual: She climbs a ladder to where her roof used to be and sucks on a hose to siphon puddles from the plastic tarp suspended over her house.

The tarp is held aloft by a few thin wooden posts, which have begun to warp and now seem almost certain to collapse. The temporary contraption that shelters Ms. Cruz and what little she still owns has been in place since March.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave her $6,000 to replace waterlogged belongings, but nothing to help make her house habitable again.

“I am thankful for the little they gave me,” she said, “but thanks for nothing.”

A year ago, on Sept. 20, the deadliest storm to hit Puerto Rico in over 100 years slammed into the island’s southeast coast, just 14 miles south of where Ms. Cruz lives in Punta Santiago. The tourist and fishing town of 5,000 people bore a terrible share of Maria’s initial fury.

Almost 650 houses flooded with water from the sea; others were inundated by an overflowing lake, a river, and two ponds — and also raw sewage. Many homes lost walls and roofs in winds that reached 155 miles per hour when the storm made landfall.

An aerial photo of Punta Santiago’s handwritten, desperate “S.O.S.” plea, taken in the early days after the storm, circulated around the world. When the Puerto Rico government kicked off a recent public relations campaign to highlight a year of recovery, it did it here. A new sign in town reads: “Bienvenidos. #Covertheprogress.”

Number of Puerto Rico households that sought help from FEMA after Hurricane Maria, compared with the number that received a grant for repairs. Of those who received a repair grant, most got a small amount. The median grant was $1,800. About two-thirds received less than $3,000. Data: OpenFEMA, data as of 30 August 2018. Graphic: The New York Times

Times journalists visited 163 homes in two neighborhoods in Punta Santiago to cover what progress had been made in the last 12 months.

They found a community with signs of fresh paint and, in some of the middle-class parts of town, rebuilt rooms and new furniture.

But in neighborhoods where residents live on meager pensions and disability checks, there were gutted kitchens and electrical wires running randomly along unfinished walls. Roofs were covered with plywood or plastic, many near collapse. Some houses still had no running water. A number of families lived in single rooms in unfurnished houses, sleeping on the floor.

Leomida Uniel, 82, the walls of her house stained in black mold that gave her a lung infection, was sitting on her porch, sobbing. Gilberto Díaz and his wife, María Carrión, were bathing and washing dishes with the aid of a neighbor’s hose stuck through a window. Roberto Albino had an inch of water inside his house.

“They did a ‘magnificent job.’ President Trump says so himself,” Ms. Cruz said. “Have him come say that to my face.” [more]

On Hurricane Maria Anniversary, Puerto Rico Is Still in Ruins

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