Photos tell the story

Recovery slow in Puerto Rico after hurricane

Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

Associated Press photographer Ramon Espinosa spent weeks roaming Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September.

He documented the lives of Puerto Ricans who lost roofs and possessions in the storm. Others saw their houses torn completely from their foundations, leaving only concrete bases.

Espinosa revisited the subjects of his pictures ahead of the June 1 start of the 2018 hurricane season to see how they were living eight months after the disaster.

He found some well along the path to recovery – erecting concrete homes after wood houses were swept off by Maria’s winds.

Others are half-recovered: A 69-year-old woman living on federal assistance has new walls but a fragile metal roof that is screwed on to wood planks and certain to fly away in the next major storm.

Others lost everything and have no recovery in sight, including a couple who sold the car where they were sleeping after the storm so they could outfit a narrow sleeping space behind a parent’s damaged home in Puerto Rico’s central mountains.

Across Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of homes still don’t have roofs. FEMA distributed 59,000 enormous plastic sheets to homeowners who lost their roofs in Irma or Maria. More than 100,000 more received smaller tarps to protect specific rooms or belongings. Only 21,000 households have received federal aid to carry out permanent repairs.

FEMA officials say that long-standing rules prevented federal officials from granting reconstruction aid to storm victims who don’t have a title to homes. In many such cases, storm victims were informally given property by a relative or inherited it without a will or deed.

Officials say those rules are being loosened so victims can prove ownership with proof such as a long history of paying utility bills.

Blanca Rivera and Eduard Rodriguez slept in their car after Maria destroyed their home in San Lorenzo. The couple says FEMA rejected their request for financial help to rebuild, so they sold their car to build a room next to his mother’s house.

“It’s sad,” Rodriguez says. “So sad.”

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