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The Island Next Door

A team of Connecticut veterans and volunteers -- self-described as the Puerto Rican "water dogs" -- pumps water from a river in Salinas, Puerto Rico through a mobile filtration and purification system for residents there to drink.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

As Puerto Rico recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, WNPR is committed to telling the stories of residents with ties to Connecticut. We've sent a reporting team - news director Jeff Cohen, and digital reporter Ryan Caron King - to the island to meet people who are delivering aid and reconnecting with loved ones.  Listen for reports on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Where We Live and NEXT.

If you have loved ones in Puerto Rico and want to share your story, please email us at news@wnpr.org. You can also join a Facebook group WNPR in Puerto Rico After Maria. 

Coverage of Hurricane Maria from WNPR, the New England News Collaborative, and NPR:

Frankie Graziano / WNPR

An Avon woman has started a Facebook campaign in her free time to rescue and reunite residents of Puerto Rico with their relatives in Connecticut. She calls it “efficient altruism.”

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Guillermo Class just couldn’t wait any more. The reports he was getting from his two teenage sons living in Puerto Rico weren’t good. Food and water were getting to them and their mother. But not enough.

Jeff Cohen / WNPR

As direct flights from Puerto Rico to Connecticut are re-established, the state is ramping up its efforts to help people who may be relocating from the ravaged territory. 

The city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is getting ready for an influx of Puerto Ricans fleeing the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.  

Scott Wilderman, the CEO of Career Resources, which operates the American Jobs Center for the city, met with other city officials and community leaders on Friday to develop a transition center, where incoming families can get services. 

Harriet Jones / WNPR

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, many people around Connecticut have been collecting supplies to help the relief effort in Puerto Rico. But it’s difficult to get those supplies to where they need to be, particularly to the more remote areas of the territory.

Luis Cruz and Esther Gomez had always considered moving to Florida from Puerto Rico. The weather and proximity made it an ideal destination; plus, the couple had family scattered across the state. They just didn't know when they'd take the big step.

Then Hurricane Maria hit. Three weeks after the storm wiped out the island's power grid, less than 20 percent of people have electricity and 64 percent have drinking water.

When it rains in Puerto Rico, it rains hard and it rains fast. And this week — three weeks after Hurricane Maria — it has rained a lot.

For portions of the island – especially in the mountains and in the valleys – that rain brings a continual trauma of mudslides and flooding. Even in San Juan, highway exits pool with a foot or more of water. In restaurants with cell service, the S.O.S alarms on phones ring out in a cacophony – warning of flash floods. But the capital city has fared comparatively well — it's the rural places that are doing much, much worse.

Back-to-school season didn't last long this year in Puerto Rico. First Hurricane Irma and then Maria forced schools to close and turned the lives of students and their families upside down.

Puerto Rico's secretary of education, Julia Keleher, says that of the U.S. territory's 1,113 public schools, 22 reopened last week and another 145 this week. They're hoping that the majority will be open by Oct. 23. Some are still functioning as emergency shelters.

Every Sunday since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, Ada Reyes and her four children have walked half an hour to church. Down a winding road, dodging fallen trees and debris, they walk past concrete houses still bearing flood marks, and finally cross the Vivi — a small river in Utuado, a city in the central mountain region.

Frankie Graziano / WNPR

Marie Degro was the first student to arrive at Crosby High School in Waterbury from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Veronica Montalvo/Facebook

Veronica Montalvo was born in Willimantic and has lived in Hartford, Middletown, Waterbury -- and, now, San Juan. She moved there earlier this year. And she weathered Hurricane Maria in her 300-year-old apartment building. She says the hours of howling winds were unbearable. The walls of her apartment were so wet they looked like they were crying. Part of her ceiling caved in.

And now, the aftermath.

Patrick Skahill / WNPR

Some state universities and community colleges could soon welcome students displaced by Hurricane Maria. Now the system’s president has proposed offering  those students in-state tuition rates.

Patrick Skahill / WNPR

Residents gathered at a rally in downtown Hartford Wednesday to call attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. 

Frankie Graziano / WNPR

The leveling of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria is personal to the employees of Durham School Services. More than half of them are Puerto Rican. The normal driving schedule at the school bus company in Waterbury is 6am to 9am and then again from 1pm to 5pm. But it’s what they do in-between and after work that is less about the routine and more about helping out back at home.

Ruben Zapata was surrounded by school buses and pallets full of bottled water, diapers, and other supplies. They unloaded a bunch already, but they still have 11 buses to go.  For them, it’s hard to keep up.

Lori Mack/WNPR

Many Puerto Ricans in Connecticut have been collecting supplies for the island in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. But getting those supplies to where they’re needed remains very difficult.

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