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TODAY'S PAPER
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Opinion

Faces of recovering Puerto Rico

Columnist Mark Chiusano is touring Puerto Rico months after Hurricane Maria hit. Here are the stories of some of the people he has encountered.

Mark Chiusano

The federal government might have been shut down on Saturday, but Morovis Mayor Carmen Maldonado was working. That’s because some 20 percent of the urban zone has power, she says. The recovery has been “very slow,” she says, so last week she was joined by dozens of mayors to talk to the governor. We talked after she had breakfast with her daughter, and in the afternoon she planned to distribute solar lamps to constituents. What do they need, months after the hurricane winds receded? She has a simple answer: “Energy.”

Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

Manuel A. del Río, 66, is still trying to get his farm back into shape outside Morovis. Stable roofs: gone. Large trees: all across the property. He remembers coming back to the premises a few days after Hurricane Maria and missing the turn off to his dirt road. It was as if the trees and greenery had swallowed it up. When he found the road, it was completely impassable, and he came upon his neighbor hacking at obstacles with a machete. The neighbor was crying.

Puerto Rico
Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

Raul Velazquez and Mima Vargas work at the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico.
Raul moved to New York in 1949: “That’s where jobs were,” he says. He ultimately came back and Mima was glad he did: how else would he have met her? Raul says plenty of Puerto Ricans think they’ll make a similar journey. “They always think they’re gonna do it. The dream of returning.” 

Puerto Rico
Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

Sandra Roman, with no power for two months in Arecibo, wished the federal government’s response had been more “sensible and humane.”

Puerto Rico
Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

Orlando Montanez, 32, didn't like coffee until he dreamed up a great business idea: a big annual coffee exposition in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which loves its coffee. Last year's event was planned for the weekend of Hurricane Maria. It was cancelled and other events were disrupted for months, threatening Montanez's young event-planning business. Now, he’s changing the date for the annual exposition—to the spring, outside of hurricane season. 

Puerto Rico
Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

Shakira Wilson and Roger Gural are New York energy pros, in charge of the New York State utility contingent helping to get the lights back on in Puerto Rico. The New Yorkers and their hundreds of Empire State reinforcements have taken over the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in the beachfront Condado area. There's not much (or any) beach time for them, though. After we took this picture Shakira grabbed her hard hat to go out into the field, and Roger gave me a tour of some of the contingent's work so far towards getting power back up in the San Juan area: still not expected until early spring.

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