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Puerto Rico Is Still Struggling To Rebuild One Year After Devastating Hurricane Maria

Ramon Espinosa
AP Photo
In this Sept. 8, 2018 photo, Alma Morales Rosario poses for a portrait between the beams of her home being rebuilt after it was destroyed by Hurricane Maria one year ago in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico.

One year ago, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. The Category 4 storm had winds up to 150 mph and decimated the unincorporated territory. Millions of Americans were left without power and water in Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm.A report from George Washington University estimated the death toll of the hurricane to be 2,975.

Last week President Donald Trump questioned that number and attributed it to Democrats who he said were trying to discredit him. Anabel Rosa was on the island two days before Hurricane Maria hit, begging her mother to leave – but she refused.

Rosa talks to host Frank Stasio about how she was out of contact with her mother for days after the storm and about her trip to Puerto Rico after the disaster. Rosa is an attorney with the North Carolina law firm James Scott Farrin, and she is the chair of the Durham Mayor’s Hispanic/Latino Committee.

Stasio also talks to Charles Venator-Santiago, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut with a joint appointment in the Department of Political Science and El Instituto: Institute for Latino/a, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies. Venator-Santiago looks at U.S.-Puerto Rico relations and talks about what is happening politically on the island.

Interview Highlights

Anabel Rosa on her mother’s refusal to leave Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria hit:
She calls herself a coqui, which is a little frog from Puerto Rico that makes a distinctive noise that only Puerto Ricans love, I think. But she said: You know I'm a coqui and I can't leave the island or I will die. So she was going to stay and keep her fortress under watch.

Rosa on the days after the storm, when she could not contact her mother and her husband:
I was walking around with this cloud, of course. You go to sleep and you wake up and you don't know where your loved ones are and if they're OK.

Charles Venator-Santiago on the difference in federal benefits for Puerto Ricans:
If I retire today and go to live in Ecuador or Iraq, I can apply for supplemental social security  and I have my set social security income. If I go to Puerto Rico, I lose all kinds of benefits. I have more benefits if I live in Cuba or Iran or Iraq than I would in Puerto Rico based on my social welfare benefits like social security.

Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.