TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

Island of continued enchantment: Puerto Rico’s rise from the ashes of Hurricane Maria

in Hurricane Trifecta/Major Collaborative Project by

Mother Nature has a habit if throwing hard blows and sucker punches at unsuspecting countries. The summer of 2017 was a prime example, as it was not one, but three hurricanes that ravaged the Caribbean and the southern United States.

Puerto Rico was, and still is, one of the places most affected by last year’s hurricane season. Neither the island, nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), were t prepared fortwo hurricanes hitting Puerto Rico consecutively.

In FEMA’s Hurricane after-action report, it describes that “Because FEMA and its partners lacked situational awareness early in the response, the Agency initially could not be certain that FEMA and interagency partner efforts were sufficient to stabilize the incident in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico went without power, drinking water, and access to all ports and airports on the island for months. However, like the many other places that have suffered the wrath of the 2017 hurricane trifecta, Puerto Rico has slowly, but surely, risen from the ashes.

Like water for chocolate

Following the hurricanes that hit the island, throughout the course of the year, one of the first industries  restored was tourism. When Maria hit Puerto Rico, any means of getting to and from the island nation were closed down. Buildings suffered major damage and tourism came to a halt. Many businesses dealing tourism, like hotels and restaurants were subsequently closed until repairs restored .

However, there were places that were spared the brunt of destruction such as Chocobar Cortes, a popular chocolate themed restaurant in San Juan

Chocobar Cortes

. During recovery, it transformed into an outpost that worked to helped those who were affected. According to Chocobar Cortes’ Front of House manager, Carolina Sabater “…serving food to help out the local people of San Juan. We were getting out our inventory and selling five dollar plates through the door.”

She also stated that “On the second and third floor, there is a foundation for the arts that worked with children affected by. The opened up a small camp to give kids a place to the neighborhood kids since they couldn’t go to school and we gave out free lunch and snacks to help out during that time.”

Their help during those few months proved to be essential since their affordable food came at a time when supermarkets were still closed. Also, it provided kids a place to hang out until schools reopened. In turn, it gave gave parents peace of mind to deal with the aftermath of Maria.

Nicole Fraticelli, another employee at Chocobar described the problems people faced in  San Juan in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. She stated, “Basic necessities were very difficult to find for a couple months anywhere in the island because there was still a lack of food and gas. People would make lines for three to four hours to get gas in order to go to work.”

Even with all the work they put in, the dramatic decline in tourism, added with the tens of thousands of  people fleeing Puerto Rico to the mainland US, businesses could not turn over a profit. On December 20, 2017, that changed when the Puerto Rican Tourism Company announced that tourism would start again.

This was the first big milestone for Puerto Rico’s road to recovery.  The next was h the recent news of power being virtually restored to all parts of the island, though still spotty at times.

Boricua strong

There are still some bumps on this road, like FEMA Housing Aid ending on on August 31, leaving over 2,400 evacuees in a state of uncertainty. More over, financially speaking, Puerto Rico is stuck in a massive hole of debt that may take years, even decades to crawl out of.

Recovering from a disaster such as Maria is feat that will take years to accomplish, especially in Puerto Rico.  

In a Twitter post by Ricky Plamenco, a professional singer, dancer, and actor, makes an argument for Puerto Rico’s recovery  by saying, “They need it now more than ever. I got a chance to take in the culture, take in the people, take in moments and let me tell you, it’s worth the trip!”

Plamenco’s efforts, like a host of celebrities, activists and its Diaspora, shows hope is not lost.

Puerto Rico has come a long way since last year’s hurricane. With the power back on and businesses and schools getting back on track, rebuilding  will continue. Puerto Rico fights to find its way again and return to its natural, proud form once again. The “island of enchantment” will get the magic through its collective work and  and perseverance.

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Pedro Guarin is a junior reporter that focuses on sports. If he is not catching a story, he is fishing or feeding turtles. This story is part of the Ark Republic’s inaugural major collaborative project, the Hurricane Trifiecta: One Year Later.

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