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United Way Blog

Puerto Rico: One Year Later

Last September, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, wreaked havoc across the island and left millions of people without power and hundreds of thousands without a home. Maria was recorded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect the area, resulting in an estimated cost of more than $40 billion in damage, according to a new report by the Puerto Rico Planning Board.

Now, many people are left wondering about the recovery progress the island has made. For many Puerto Ricans, their answer is filled with hope and apprehension. While many feel as though the worst is over, others fear the damage another hurricane season could bring to the island.

Many Puerto Ricans lived without power for as long as nine months. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in the process of closing several disaster recovery offices and has entered into a long-term recovery phase on the island. But the region is still crowded with stories of hardship: Josefa and Nata, two elderly sisters in the region, spent months washing their clothes by hand, often until their knuckles bled. In a nearby neighborhood, Felicita struggled without a roof or basic electricity, and relied on FEMA to provide a tarp to keep the elements out. And Hilario, whose son has cerebral palsy, struggled without power to provide to his son with his medically- required respirator.

For every story of struggle, there’s also one of generosity and hope. United Way's corporate partners jumped in and provided non-electric washing machines to help people clean their clothes more efficiently. We, Fondos Unidos de Puerto Rico, (FUPR) helped install solar systems in homes so that residents could power necessities and life-saving equipment. Even local businesses have chipped in to support communities by offering to store refrigerated medications.

Despite all the storm destroyed, Puerto Rico is living proof that when we fight united, we win united.

Puerto Rico is slowly recovering, but thanks to the hundreds of thousands of donors and volunteers who have stepped in to support the island, progress is being made. Here at FUPR, we received thousands of positive messages of hope from around the world. Donations continue to arrive. And volunteers are helping us rebuild. There’s amazing stories like CREARTE – a  school that reopened shortly after the storm and achieved "Green Building" certification while also providing community mental health, medical, and food services.

As FEMA continues to scale back their financial assistance and cover only 90 percent of our recovery efforts, from power restoration to clean up efforts, we know the road to recovery will likely take many years before our communities are completely rebuild. Puerto Ricans are hopeful that whatever challenges we face, our path will be brighter if we continue to work together. With volunteers from around the world, our corporate and community partners, and the communities of Puerto Rico, we are working to support mid- and long-term rebuilding efforts, and will continue to fight for every person, in every community on our island.

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