Devastation still evident in Puerto Rico five months after Maria

By Elizabeth Beyer
Medill Reports

Rolling blackouts and lack of access to running water still plague much of Puerto Rico five months after Hurricane Maria struck the island.

Residents of the La Perla neighborhood of San Juan fear they will be left out of plans to rebuild the electric delivery system entirely. That threatens to leave the community on its own to figure out a method for energy production and delivery, according to University of Puerto Rico student Ibrahim Lopez-Hernandez, who was talking to community organizers.

Wind power might be one option, he said.

In Arecibo, west of San Juan, residents have long fought against a proposed waste incinerator. Gov. Ricardo Rossello rescinded his support of the project in February, but the fiscal control board overseeing the island’s energy system still supports the proposal. The proposed incinerator could produce energy, but would potentially pollute the communities surrounding the site.

“It’s still very hard to go about daily living,” said Ruth Santiago, an organizer Coqui Solar, about life after the storm. Coqui Solar is a community organization focused on making solar energy accessible to island residents.

“Everyday people needed to go out and sort of live out of their cars because it was a way to get your basic necessities,” she said.

Solar energy offers a future for energy production on the island, said Saybian Torres, a resident of Las Mareas, a community roughly 30 miles west of where Hurricane Maria hit the island. Torres spent 109 days without power and now volunteers with Coqui Solar.

“Now we know, we learned from it,” he said of the hurricane. Torres remains hopeful that residents of the island will take what they’ve learned from Hurricane Maria and use it to strengthen their communities.

Photo at top: A cruise ship can be seen in the bay at San Juan. Tourism is coming back slowly to the area, but many businesses closed during and after the hurricane and haven’t reopened. (Elizabeth Beyer/Medill)

An earlier version of this story stated that Gov. Ricardo Rossello vetoed a bill in favor of a proposed waste incinerator in Arecibo. That was incorrect, Gov. Rossello rescinded his support of the incinerator; there was no legislation and no veto involved. Medill Reports regrets the error.