WNPR

Fixing Up After Maria, One Corner Store At A Time

Jul 11, 2018

Alberto Díaz lost most of what he had when Maria passed through. Nine months later, he is making opportunity out of disaster. His kitchen is a kitchen again. He used some wood he found to make a homemade tostonera -- a tool for smashing green plantains. Someone was throwing out a basketball court, so he took it, cleaned it, cut it, and now he’s got new wooden floors.

And after the storm, his front patio in Valle Hill was a neighborhood gathering spot for meals, medicine, and conversation. Now, much of it is taken up by what he calls his new “colmadito” -- a corner store where he says he sells a little bit of everything. 

“Un chispito de cada cosita,” he said.

Díaz says he built it himself to make a little money, and he stocked it with canned food, snacks, cleaning supplies, aspirin, toothpaste, and sweets like dulce de coco.

“You’re going to like these,” Díaz said as he offered them. “They’re from here. They’re good.”

This neighborhood in Canovanas was built in a wetland. When it rains here, it floods. When Maria came, it brought destruction. This week, when we arrived, Díaz was on his front patio playing dominos. Janet Lozada is his neighbor, and she said the only other place to shop nearby is a market she knows as El Economico -- which she says is anything but.

Janet Lozada waits for a July storm, but it's September she's worried about most.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Díaz got a few thousand dollars from FEMA to help fix his house -- though there are still cans catching water from the old, leaky roof. Lozada said she got more than $30,000 -- but she hasn’t used much of it yet. Materials are too expensive. She jokes that Maria’s floods washed her mattress away, so she’s had to put the money in the bank.

As we visited Monday, the winds and rains of a degraded Tropical Storm Beryl were about to make their way through Canovanas. The radio told of major road closures and power outages. Lozada said the whole situation makes her nervous.

Hurricane Maria's flood waters damaged much of what was here in this small part of Canovanas. Now, residents say they live with anxiety about the inevitable next storm.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

“I don’t want September to arrive,” she said. “I’m anxious. Because I lost. And I don’t want to go back to that again. I slept four months in a car.”

Now, everytime there’s a little bit of wind, she fears a storm will take her house. And though she was preparing for a weakened July storm to pass through, it’s September -- the height of the hurricane season -- that she’s worried about.