FEMA is 'officially shutting off' hurricane aid to Puerto Rico - but the US territory is still devastated
Erin BrodwinJan 31, 2018, 18:32 IST
The lights are still out for nearly half a million Puerto Ricans.
After Hurricane Maria struck the US territory on September 20, acrippling blackoutdescended over its 3.4 million residents, cutting communication between loved ones, spoiling food and life-saving medications, and nixing access to banks and clean water.
The death toll, initially estimated at 64, is now thought to beat least 1,000, according to a recent New York Times analysis. Yet FEMA announced that aid to the US territory will end on January 31.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Nearly four months later, more than 450,000 Puerto Ricans are still living in a blackout.
The storm didn't just damage the island's already-fragile power supply. It also shredded flattened buildings, and leveled cars. Ernestina Lebron, a resident of Maunabo, still has no roof.
Life has not gotten back to normal. Hurricane Maria's death toll on the island is now thought to be closer to 1,052, according to a recent New York Times analysis.
Puerto Rico's power grid is more of a patchwork than a unified network. The majority of its large power plants lie on its southern coast, but most of its people live in the north, beyond mountainous terrain that makes distributing power difficult.
Power plants owned by the US territory's bankrupt government-owned power authority, Prepa, are an average of 40 years old. In some areas, the only houses that are lit are being run by generators.
In Humacao, a man rides a bicycle past downed cables and a partially collapsed utility pole.
One of the most challenging aspects of the storm was what residents described to Business Insider as a complete communication breakdown. Maritza Stanchich, a professor of Caribbean studies at the University of Puerto Rico, said she and her neighbors went almost a week with no news after the storm.
There was also sizable damage to medical facilities. Many hospitals were without power for days and hundreds of medications that required refrigeration spoiled.
In Humacao, a blacked-out province where people were using bacteria-infested streams for washing and laundry after Maria hit, the damage remains visible.
Across the island, utility poles are still down.
Thousands of homes have yet to be restored. Some still lack walls.
Many homes are still windowless; others have no power or water.
Nevertheless, people are making repairs where they can. Here, Lourdes Rodriguez cleans while her husband repairs the roof.
In a house nearby, Angel Morales and his wife Carmen Martinez board a window.
Still, some see a potential for hope in the destruction of an already-ailing grid.
Sonnen, Tesla, and a handful of other renewable energy companies are experimenting with providing power to the island using solar grids that do not rely on larger grid infrastructure.
In the meantime, much of the island is still reeling.