One Year After Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico Still Recovering After Massive Storm's Devastation

"We're going to work hard, hard, hard, fix everything," Peter Sanchez said.

For the last 365 days, residents in Puerto Rico have spent their time recovering and picking up the pieces from the mass devastation caused when Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island.

The impact of the massive storm - some residents just regaining power, nearly $100 billion in damages and a death toll number that has caused debate - continues to be present on the one year anniversary of the September 20th arrival of the storm.

Maria hit close to home for many who had no way to connect with loved ones on the mainland of the United States - including Peter Sanchez, who had no way to connect with his children.

The storm also destroyed his body shop business in Yabucoa. He didn't have any power for the next 11 months.

"One month is OK. Three months? Wow. Six months is hard. But 11 months without electricity?" Sanchez recalled.

Maria is long gone, but one year later, its footprints are still everywhere. But Puerto Ricans are slowly making progress.

While more than 200,000 people left the island after the hurricane, Sanchez said that wasn't an option for him. One year later, his body shop was rebuilt and now it's back in business.

Largely due to decades of neglect and years of fiscal crisis, the Puerto Rican electrical grid collapsed into the United States' longest-ever blackout after Maria hit on Sept. 20, 2017. That spawned a long and deadly tail for the storm, with hundreds of deaths coming long after the first weeks of the storm, as medical equipment failed and sick people weakened in the suffocating heat.

Researchers from George Washington University hired by Puerto Rico's government estimated last month that 2,975 people had died because of Maria in the six months after landfall, a number Puerto Rico accepted as official.

Though Trump continued to assert this week that his administration's efforts in Puerto Rico were "incredibly successful," both the local and federal governments have been heavily criticized for inadequate planning and post-storm response. The GWU report found that Puerto Rico had no plan for communication with its citizens in a crisis. The Center for Investigative Journalism found in May that the island's health department had no emergency response plan for hospitals and other medical facilities.

As for the Trump administration, more than half of federal emergency personnel in Puerto Rico were not qualified for their assigned tasks as of October 2017, a month after landfall, according to a Sept. 5 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Yabucoa alone buried 271 people in the past year as a result of Maria. The storm robbed lives, businesses and homes, but it didn't rob Puerto Ricans of their spirit.

"We're going to work hard, hard, hard, fix everything," Sanchez said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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