Life After Maria: A Year On, Puerto Ricans Show Steely Resolve To Move Forward

Sep 21, 2018

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, destroying nearly everything in its path and cutting off the island from the rest of the world.

A year later, the storm is long gone but the memories of near-death experiences and horrific suffering remain fresh for Puerto Ricans.

“We’re going to die here,” Pablo Soto Soto recalls his wife telling him as the storm knocked out their windows and ripped off their roof in Yabucoa.

Read the whole series: Life After Maria, a WUFT Special

Soto is one of 60,000 people who still have blue tarps where rooftops once stood strong.

In the low-lying town of Toa Baja, Maria Gonzalez still cries every time she thinks about the flooding that followed the hurricane’s deluge. She says her bedridden mother was almost one of 2,975 people who died.

For most Puerto Ricans, life became defined by Hurricane Maria. There was what they had before and what they live with now.

A team of 11 journalists from WUFT News and Noticias WUFT traveled to the island for a week to document life after Maria. What captured their attention were the stories of resilience and determination to keep moving forward.

Jose “Tonty” Saldaña gave up his retirement fund to keep the lights on for his family and their business, spending more than $60,000 on generators and supplies.

A church group is helping people like Gregoria Delgado to rebuild their homes for free.

“Thank God they appeared,” Delgado says.

In Utuado, the hardest-hit town, Harry Marrero and Vivian Lopategui still manage to find joy in their everyday lives, despite having lost everything.

“We are going to rebuild; we are going to do it,” Lopategui says.

In Vega Baja, Ana Victoria Pardo volunteers her time and money to feed dozens of stray animals, many of which were abandoned after the storm.

This special WUFT report hopes to shine the light on the steely resolve of Puerto Ricans who refused to give up in the face of calamity. 

“The people of Puerto Rico are very special and very strong and very resilient,” said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in an interview with the WUFT team. “The thing that I’m proudest of is the resolve and resiliency and heart of the people of Puerto Rico.”

Dennis Rivera Guzman, a pastor at Iglesia Calvario de Utuado, agrees.

“In the end, this book has not yet been closed,” he said. “I know what the last page says: We won. We will be fine. That is the end.”

Gregoria lends a hand to one of the men fixing the roof of her home in Trujilo Alto. After Hurricane Maria destroyed her roof, Gregoria had only a blue tarp protecting her home for almost a year.
Credit Kaitlin Hall / WUFT