Puerto Rico Then and now
Hurricane Maria left millions of Americans without power, water or shelter. Puerto Rico’s recovery has been slow and, at times, painful. See what life is like on the island a year later.
CNN’s Leyla Santiago covered the category 4 storm as it made landfall. She returned often in the following months.
“Some point out progress. Others note they have a long way to go. But they all tell me they will never be the same.”
FEMA says the response to Maria was the largest and longest to a domestic disaster in US history. Massive flooding damaged more than half a million homes. Many families are still rebuilding.
17-year-old Marytere Santos’ house flooded up to this water line.
Toa Baja, September 2017
CNN met Santos when she climbed aboard a rescue truck with only a backpack and a trash bag of her belongings.
Santos gets emotional when she thinks about how lucky her family is and how much her community supported her after the hurricane.
After Maria, Puerto Rico’s already weak electrical grid failed. It took nearly 11 months to restore power across the island. Some communities are still running on generators.
Humacao, October 2017
Angel St. Kitts didn’t have power or running water when CNN visited him a month after Maria.
St. Kitts has power now but says his life is far from normal.
Blue tarps were given to homeowners without roofs. Meant to be a 30-day fix, they are still visible around the island.
It was almost a year before Carmen Rivera had a permanent roof over her head. She said it was installed one week before CNN revisited her in August 2018.
Rivera says the hair on her arms stand up whenever she sees rain coming.
"When the water was at my waist, I didn't think I would survive. I am grateful God gave me a chance."
In December, the government said 64 lives were lost. In August, the official death count was raised to 2,975 people.
After Maria, just 400 of Puerto Rico’s 16,700 miles of road were passable due to debris and landslides.
Today traffic is flowing, but the government says it needs $647 million to finish repairing roads and bridges.
When CNN met David Iturrino he was delivering bottles of water to a community cutoff by mudslides. It took 5 months to fully restore the island’s main water service.
“Maria abruptly changed our lives. I lost everything and at my age I can’t start over from where I started.”
David Iturrino, 71
Schools were turned into shelters after the storm. The majority welcomed students back in December 2017.
Nannete Rivera says she rebuilt her classroom with a lot of love.
“We had students that didn’t even have a home. School became their safe space.”
What Brenda Medina wanted most was for CNN to tell the world she was alive. Maria wiped out Puerto Rico’s communication services.
The island is back online after large portions of the grid were rebuilt, but officials know they are forever vulnerable in a hurricane.
The trauma caused by Maria lingers. Yet where there is resiliency there is hope.
Hope that reconstruction will finish. Hope that tourists will return …
Hope that once again Puerto Rico will be seen as the Island of Enchantment.
Story by: Leyla Santiago, Claudia Morales, Jeremy Moorhead
Video contributors: Adolfo Ibarra, Jose Armijo, John Rubenstahl, McKenna Ewen
Development & Design: Marco Chacón, Alicia Johnson, Sean O’Key