Houses in the hills of Naranjito, Puerto Rico
Photo: Stephen Yang

This week the Puerto Rican government raised Hurricane Maria’s official death toll from 64 to 2,975. In response to questions about the new, vastly increased estimate, President Trump said Wednesday he believed the response effort on the island had been “fantastic.”

“We’ve put a lot of money and a lot of effort into Puerto Rico,” he said. “And I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we’ve done.”

At the beginning of the summer, Splinter began to solicit stories from Puerto Ricans, both on the island and elsewhere. We asked them how the hurricane and its fallout had affected their lives. (You can read our call for letters in English and Spanish here.)

Today we’re running our first installment to show how appreciative the people of Puerto Rico actually are. They have been slightly edited for clarity.

If you’d like to contribute your story, please do email us at puertorico@splinternews.com.

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“We are not profitable to them”

I don’t know which part of all of this we don’t understand. The United States never ever really cared about us. We are not profitable to them, they cannot get something from us, they squeeze every single country in their path. It happened in the South, in Central America, they just left poverty. What a shame we let this happen.

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“Our men and women fight in the same war as the Americans”

I do not live in Puerto Rico, but I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I still have family there. While living here, I could not fathom the disaster in Puerto Rico until I went for a vacation for three weeks to see my family. It was not near what the United States truly knows. The whole island did not have power. The roads were destroyed inside the island which made it difficult for any help to get to people. A lot people are homeless and in need of medical attention. The elderly are dying due to their needs not being met. How can Puerto Rico stay off of the map when we are citizens of the United States? Our men and women fight in the same war as the American men. Many thousands of people have died for lack of medical or physical needs. I am a Republican and I always voted Republican, but it seems that our own have abandoned us. Who should we trust when our people voted for statehood as well? This leaves a lot of answers open. How can the United States be so cold and treat us as a third world people?

I can’t remember nothing like Maria

My name is Norma Socorro Rosario. I live in the mountains of Puerto Rico. I was here for other hurricanes that touched us. But I can’t remember nothing like Maria. I had an organic farm. I planted botanical plants for many health conditions. When Maria came everything changed. The soil looked like it had been hit by an atomic bomb. After months I can’t recover my plants. I started again. But the surviving plants did not grow. They suffered to much. I had three neighbors that were in bed with bad diseases. They passed away after Maria. It was to much without energy. We had ten months without electricity and water. The wounds covered their backs, and they died.

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“Being away from the island does not make you immune what you see, hear and read.

My name is Kermit Santos. I was born and raised in the island, where I lived until I departed in June 2000 to mainland. I was not stuck in the island when this occurred, but I will share my story in getting my father out of the island.

The gist of my story is that my father is living with my family and me here in Virginia after being stuck in San German during and for a few weeks after the hurricane. However, he is emotionally affected by the events. He IS one of the lucky ones.

I work in Metro DC and travel on a regular basis. I was finishing details on my upcoming trip to New Zealand. My wife had been paying more attention to the matter that I had, so she purchased a one-way ticket out of SJU hours before Maria made landfall. I got on my flight later that day, headed to my first layover at SFO. I tried to disconnect, but the curiosity got the better of me. I was able to stream live commentary from a number of radio stations that were in the air running on generators. The live shots being shown were not unusual to me, as I lived through many of them, including Hugo.

I disconnected between boarding to AKL and settling down in WLG, except for one coincidence. I saw a PRican flag used as a curtain on a town home as a cab took me between the airport and the hotel. I got a hold of my wife in VA and my sister in TX; the latter having more regular contact with folks on the island. Not a single word from my father over the course of six days. On day seven, my sister got in touch with my dad’s neighbor after asking his daughter in NC for his landline phone number. My dad chatted with my sister, stating that he was fine. He had no power or mobile communications, but had running water and a nearly full tank of gas in his early 2000s Suzuki.

Later on, we got in contact with a cousin of mine in the town of Aguadilla. He had visited my dad in San German and asked him to move in with him for a couple of weeks until the situation improved, but dad refused. However, after several days, we coordinated a plan across the board to get him to the airport. My sister maintained some contact with my dad, so we knew his status. By then, I got on a plane and got back home.

My sister got a hold of my dad and passed on the plan. My cousin bartered with friends and neighbors for gas to make the trip from Aguadilla to San German. After an overnight stay in Aguadilla and a five-hour trip from Aguadilla to SJU (two hours prior to check in plus driving on debris filled highways and roads makes it five hours), my dad was on a plane and made it to MIA. First thing he did was ask a random stranger at the airport to borrow his phone so he could call my wife and give her his status. We picked him up around 9 PM that night. That was last October.

The next few days, he started sharing stories of what he saw. He says that the howling wind was the scariest part that night. Thankfully, he found no damage to the house the next morning. The houses in his neighborhood are concrete masonry unit, rebar and poured concrete boxes. There was a lot of brush and debris all over.

He had provisions and water in the bathtubs and a small water tank that collects rainwater. He had a 25 lb propane tank and a two-burner stove he put on top of two stacked coolers so he could reach them. He went into town a few times, which is a five to ten minute drive, so his gas consumption was minimal.

There was no power and what few fuel reserves sites had were used up, so all businesses were cash only. Also, the Banco Popular of Puerto Rico location in town was allowing daily withdrawals up to $50 at one point due to the lack of incoming paper currency. He saw a few folks going to grocery stores only to turn back around when they realized that they had no cash on them.

Before the hurricane, we had discussed with him that he needed to move Stateside due to his age, which makes him vulnerable and risk-prone in several areas of daily life. He was on board with moving in with us. The hurricane just accelerated the time table. The hurricane, I think, also made him come to grips with the fragility of life and survival in substandard circumstances. He has bouts of melancholy and sadness, not necessarily caused by the hurricane. But the thought of the hurricane and its outcome only make it worse. He speaks of my mother, who left us in 2010; of friends who are still around or are gone; and of the day to day in the island. But bluntly speaking, the hurricane fucked him up. He was raised to suck things up, and denies that it affected him.

But it is not all bad. He stays busy around the house. He is a handy man and has helped with numerous home improvement projects around the house. He does chores around the house, and drives around running errands. He is a bit tech savvy, hanging out on Facebook and listening to streams of radio stations down in the island. He also has a puppy that drives him up the wall, but treats him as her favorite human. And he spoils his toddler granddaughter to no end. We are going to the VA for his upcoming appointment, and I will talk with the folks on hand to see if he might benefit from professional help.

We know the island had been in financial dysfunction for decades now. Since the 60s and 70s, governors took out loans to supplement tax revenue and federal aid, and keep the lights on. But waste, fraud and abuse have been rampant for some time now. Hurricane Maria just pulled off the covers and made a bad situation even worse. And it did not help that *insert derogatory adjective here* Trump had the balls to justify the slow response, suspend the cabotage laws for only ten days, lessen the impact of the hurricane by comparing it another hurricane tragedy (Katrina), and toss paper towel rolls like some kind of carnival game.

I guess having lots of water in between lessens the humanity of those who need help on the other side.

I think this is not exactly what you wanted to read, as I am one of the diaspora in Metro DC. But being away from the island does not make you immune what you see, hear and read. Also, knowing the reaction of the diaspora also helps to further study what is going on.

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I asked FEMA but I got declined”

Thanks for your concern in Puerto Rico after María. My house suffered severe damages, some of them are fixed. The electric side was affected with water inside the wall and too much water. I love alone and have 67 years. I asked FEMA but i got it declined. The refrigerator was damaged and is not working.

“The situation made him quit”

Two friends decided hang them self due to desperation. One retired from the government, waiting for electricity. Many sectors around his location received service, but not the street that he used to live by himself with his dog. The other migrated with his family to Florida. In the States things were not easy, and he returned to the island. The situation make him to quit.

In my opinion this two deaths are related to Maria.

“We are getting equally boned”

We in the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit just as hard, and in some places (like Saint John) had winds that far exceeded the storms Puerto Rico. We are US citizens with some of the highest rates of armed forces participation and are largely being ignored by the government, with most work being done by private efforts.

Irma hit my island of Saint John with winds in excess of 450 kph, with numerous tornadoes within the storm. The damage was near total, and the island faces years of recovery. I personally lost my house, truck, and boat, and I was one of the lucky ones. Can we include the Virgin Islands in this discussion since we are getting equally boned by the federal government?

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I write to the news media every day”

Hola. I am writing in reference to your comment to tell our side of Maria. I write a short paragraph every, every day to every news media I can find. Because in fact we are not seen on the map and never heard on the news. As part of the US I think we do deserve the attention as we are represented in Congress as a US territory.

So I welcome your request about telling what we went through Maria. I live in Trujillo Alto, next to San Juan (called the metro area). I was two months without lights and we had a gas stove. So at least we had warm food and the water came soon, so at least we could flush the toilets and take baths with cold cold water. The storm was frightening, as I dared to go outside it felt just like a vacuum cleaner sucking the life out of you. It was the strongest storm I have ever felt.

We saw as about four trees fell to the ground in our home. Some fence was displaced, and a tree fell on some cables. So my dad quickly paid someone to come, cut the tree, and fix it. There were no lights and traffic was chaotic. I know the government is in a financial crisis, but I still remember Whitefish and how they dared to take so, so long to fix the lights.

Nothing was normal and you saw trees being stripped of ALL and I do mean ALL of their leaves.

Nature had been changed, and where all the green was only brown was left. It was like a fire went through all of the island. We had no communication no TV. We asked for a radio and some relatives in Florida sent us one. That was our only way of communicating with what was happening. So the whole island was without communication. I tried to go to the beach but there was also a sewage problem and you could get sick if you went in the water…

In simple words: Life stopped in Puerto Rico for awhile. We protested our lack of lights and an American crew came quickly to where I live. Old people I talked with had a hard time with the lack of lights: they are ever so fragile and this changed their lives.

Me? I read in Biology that adaptation is part of life. So my mind took the lack of lights in a natural way. I adapted. But I really really missed the fan and a normal life. I prayed and a crew came because of a worker that lives behind us. We even documented the day we had lights. It was the week of Thanksgiving and it was weird. Time sort of stopped and we did not even know the month or the fact that it was Thanksgiving. Weird right? Right...lol.

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“Call FEMA”

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit I was on the island with a group of nurses, doctors, plumbers, heavy machinery staff, and electricians. We noticed the lack of FEMA assistance. They were trying but did not have the amount of staff needed. People were lacking water, food, medical supplies, electrical power, and medications. We as healthcare workers knew many would die. FEMA was trying but due to the enormity they could not go home-to-home. They set up in areas but people were waiting in lines in the sun. No water. Some areas had signs—”Call FEMA”—but people had no phone system. Many had no pharmacies and were paying for their meds. No doctors to order or see them. The people received high carb and high sodium foods but they had diabetes and hypertension. Their numbers were high.

“I was appalled how these local Americans were treated”

Before Maria the storm we the De Jesus Familia always tell younger generations about Hugo!

We sold the family home in Levittown / Bayamon PR in 1998 when the last of the old family passed away. Over the years we return to visit the remaining members. Normally we hung out at Isla Verde and the apartment directly above the bar.

My parents have been married last December 2017 for 68 years. To celebrate this milestone we planned a big family reunion. All plans changed after Maria in November 2017. We rescheduled for Easter 2018.

I have lived on West Coast since 1972. After 15 hours I arrived in San Juan at 1:00 AM local time. My luggage was dropped and I proceeded immediately to Old San Juan to El Factoria Bar and hung out till 5:00 am. Things looked normal except for blown out windows in many of the government buildings. After two days talking to locals I started the three hour trip to Rincon.

What I found along Route 22 was fine till I stopped at numerous towns and went into the neighborhoods of Bayamon, Ciales, Isabella, San Jose, etc.

What I heard was incredibly disheartening from my native people, those poor neighborhoods no one visits unless you have family living there or in the cemeteries. It had been months since anyone seen or heard from a government official from FEMA.

As a 67 year old Stateside born American citizen of full blood Puerto Rican heritage I was appalled how these local Americans were treated like a third world refugee. I have first hand experience from my travels on my Harley all over the good ol’ USA, of the racial contempt from the “moral majority” mainstream American citizens. Now I have witnessed firsthand the same old business as usual prejudices on the citizens of PR.

How old ones have died by the scores from not having power to give them the medical treatment they deserve. This current administration is a disgrace to anyone who believes in the Constitution written by the founding fathers over 200 years ago!

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“These fools did very little”

My life has changed immensely. I no longer live in Puerto Rico. I moved some time in late October 2017. I know what it was to wait in long lines at 4:00 in the morning for gasoline. I know what it was to freeze Ziploc bags of water and bottled water once the generator was on, so I could place them around my neck and my sides to keep my body cool, so I could sleep, due to my health issues. My body temperature would rise, and once they melted I couldn’t sleep anymore.

I remember when I opened my front door and saw tree limbs and cables, the destruction of my neighbors’ home. It just made me cry. I was heartbroken. The fury of this storm was just too much. As I constantly heard the sound of the wind, the cracking of trees, aluminum sheets banging on longhouses, cars, rain pouring in from everywhere. OMG, it was terrifying. A few days later I went with my daughter to find my doctor and found out the horrifying news of the conditions of the local hospital. I witnessed the takeover of army doctors within weeks at the hospital. The death tolls were rising. My island was totally destroyed.

Sorry Puerto Rico, about the lack of compassion of the president and even FEMA towards PR. The red tape held back the help that was desperately needed. They failed.

Yes, there was a hospital ship waiting to assist. Ok, how the hell were we supposed to know? There was no light or electricity, no cell towers. TV towers were down. There was absolutely no way of anybody knowing they were there. Those in the inland, the middle of the island, who totally lost bridges. There were trees down on the road, no communication at all, they never knew of this help because they couldn’t be reached due to devastation for at least three to six months.

And the politicians, like our senators, the House of Representatives, these fools did very little. And still our island is really falling apart. I remember seeing the Mayor of San Juan, trying to help her city and those in desperate need all over the island. The help never came and when it did sometimes it was too late, some had died. My God how can we let this happen.

I wish to stay in my PR, but the medical assistance, the senior living, is a little better in the USA. Rosello, you keep wanting those who left for the US to come back. To what? My nephew came back, guess what took him two months to find a job, and then it was through a temp agency. Oh yes, $7.25 an hour … Tell me on that salary, how you can survive.

Suicide rates are on the rise, we lost someone in my town today. Thirty-eight years old, worked in a restaurant and as a security guard, and still it was too hard and he took his own life.

God Bless this island, my island of Puerto Rico...I’m leaving my family. They are surviving as they can, they won’t leave. And for those who stay my blessings: Thank You.

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“I’m so tired of asking for help”

Hello, I live on the island of St Croix. Ever since the hurricane 10 months ago it is still hurting our children. They still aren’t doing a full day of education. I still don’t have a home phone line mostly for safety reasons with not having cell service, and our hospital need to be rebuilt. A lot of friends still have blue tarps that are blowing off and getting rained on. It shouldn’t be this bad!!! I’m so tired of asking for help.


Have something to say about Puerto Rico? Email us at puertorico@splinternews.com.