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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

It’s been more than six months since Hurricane Maria tore through the island of Puerto Rico — taking out power lines, destroying homes, disrupting industries, raking the island’s forests, and displacing families.

Connecticut Public Radio’s reporters have covered the aftermath of the storm both from the mainland and from the island’s streets and mountains.  We’ve told stories about families still trying to provide the basics, college students reimagining their futures, schools adapting to hundreds of new students, and people just hoping to furnish their new, but empty, apartments.

Our reporters and editors decided to cover Hurricane Maria because — with nearly 300,000 state residents who claim island roots — it’s a local story. The island is an ocean away from our newsroom, but it might as well be one town over. Connecticut Public Radio is committed to telling these stories of people touched by the storm.

  

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:

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Only days after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would pay for dozens of hurricane evacuees to stay in a Harford hotel until mid-February, state officials were told by FEMA on Thursday there had been an error, and that several of the families had to vacate their temporary housing. 

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

State officials say that several dozen Puerto Rican families who were at risk of losing federal housing assistance could now have their stay in Connecticut extended until mid-February.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Xiomara Vega moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico with her three-year-old daughter after Hurricane Maria knocked out the electricity in her home. She’s trying to make a new life there, but she doesn’t want to forget her old one. And celebrating Three Kings Day -- the Christian holiday also known as the Epiphany -- is a big part of that.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Any Hurricane Maria evacuee who walks into a Hartford relief center gets a warm meal, some winter clothes, and a pair of boots for trudging in the New England snow. That goes a long way for someone displaced from the tropical weather.

David DesRoches / WNPR

KendraLiz Gonzalez had been in cosmetology school for only two months when Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, destroying her school. So she took her twin girls, hopped on a plane, and came to Hartford, where she's staying with her aunt.

One hundred days ago, powerful Category 4 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico leaving the island severely crippled and the more than 3 million U.S. citizens desperate for help.

Now, Puerto Ricans on the island and U.S. mainland are feeling angry and the lack of progress and they are organizing to demand help for Puerto Rico.

Though life has improved for some Puerto Ricans on the island more than three months since Maria hit, the Caribbean island is still in recovery mode.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Puerto Rico is officially declaring itself open for tourism -- nearly three months after Hurricane Maria. But on an island where so many people still lack electricity, what does open for tourism mean?

Children in the mountain town of Orocovis returned to school two weeks ago after a two-month pause following Hurricane Maria. The school doesn't have electricity, so it lets out at 12:30 pm.
Ryan Caron King / WNPR

The Puerto Rican effort to advance from response to recovery after Hurricane Maria continues. For some, water and electricity are still elusive. And that makes it hard to get back to normal — especially for children.

Frankie Graziano / WNPR

In October, WNPR told the story of an Avon-based writer and how she was raising money for plane tickets to help Puerto Rican evacuees. A New Britain native heard it. And then, she reached out to Carrie Firestone for help.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

As well as providing an opportunity to mark the holidays, Saturday’s “Esparanza de Parranda” in Hartford highlighted an important need for those displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Merely Torres-Garcia has been living in a hotel room in Hartford, Conn., with her husband and two kids after losing part of her house in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria. She said spending the Christmas season in the northeastern cold has been hard for her family. But on Saturday night, in the noisy atrium of Hartford City Hall, it felt a little bit like Christmas on the island.

"My kids are happy. We feel like home in here right now," she said.

After the storm blew out her windows, Maria Enid Rodriguez lost water, Internet, power and her entire home office. Her company offered her a one-way ticket to be with family in New Britain, Conn. Rodriguez refused. She said that it was a round trip ticket or nothing. She wanted to come back.

"I went to New Britain for 10 days," she said, through her tears. "Not for me. For them. For my daughters. They have to see me, that I was okay."

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Merely Torres-Garcia sat in the second-floor conference room at a downtown Hartford Red Roof Inn, and she was bundled up -- wearing two shirts, a zip-up hoodie, a jacket, and gloves. She also had on a pair of Air Jordans which she said is something she wouldn’t wear in Puerto Rico.

A jittery group of middle-schoolers is about to start the first day of classes since September, when Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico and totally disrupted the island's school system.

The vast majority of the island's public schools — more than 98 percent — are open for at least part of the day, according to Puerto Rico's Department of Education.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Alejandro La Luz Rivera pulled the keys from his pocket, unlocked the heavy gate, and walked slowly up the outdoor stairs leading to what used to be a rooftop patio. Before Maria, this was the 90-year-old's favorite place to be. Now, without electricity, it's not as quiet up here — he doesn't have a generator, but his neighbors do. And the patio is gone, destroyed by the hurricane and its winds.

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