Thu | Oct 18, 2018

Puerto Rico marks one year since Maria with choirs, protests

Published:Friday | September 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Alma Morales Rosario poses for a picture between the beams of her home that is being rebuilt after it was destroyed by Hurricane Maria one year ago in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN (AP):

The uplifting strains of one of Puerto Rico's most beloved songs filled the air at 6:15 a.m. yesterday as a choir stood in the coastal town where Hurricane Maria made landfall at that moment exactly one year ago.

The serenade in Yabucoa, a fishing and farming town of 37,000 still struggling to recover from the Category 4 storm, was the first in a series of events to mark the anniversary of the devastating storm and remembrance of the estimated 2,975 people who lost their lives in its aftermath.

Protests were held in San Juan and elsewhere, as well as a funeral procession. Tens of thousands remain without adequate shelter and reliable access to electrical power a year after the hurricane, which caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.

While the US government has invested billions of dollars to help clean up and repair the US territory, much work remains. Major power outages are still being reported, tens of thousands of insurance claims are still pending and nearly 60,000 homes still have temporary roofs unable to withstand a Category 1 hurricane.

 

SLOW RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS

 

"I think it's inexplicable," Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's secretary general, told The Associated Press during a visit to the island yesterday. "There's no justifiable reason I can see for this gross level of negligence."

Jose Ortiz, director of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority, told reporters that 20 per cent of repairs made to the power grid need to be redone. He said crews didn't have access to the best materials at the time or were forced to rely on temporary fixes, such as using trees as makeshift power polls after Maria destroyed up to 75 per cent of the transmission lines.

In addition, municipal officials have complained that reconstruction efforts are too slow. Ariel Soto, assistant to the mayor of the mountain town of Morovis, said that 220 families there remain without a proper roof.

"We're still waiting for help," he said. "This hit us hard."

Puerto Ricans also have become increasingly angry and frustrated as President Donald Trump recently touted what he said was a "fantastic" response to Hurricane Maria, calling it an "unsung success" as he denied the official death toll without presenting any evidence.