Almost A Year After Maria, This Puerto Rican Island Still Has No Power

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"My neighbor's husband died and every agency failed to assist them. So we raised money, not only to help them with funeral expenses but also – their house was destroyed – to get tarps up to keep his wife dry.”

Almost a year ago, the devastating Hurricane Maria smashed directly in Puerto Rico and prompted an island-wide power line failure that cut electricity to almost all 3.4 million residents.

It was not until after several months had passed and a billions of dollars were lost that residents of the hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico finally had their lights back on.

However, it appears, even after months of restoration efforts, not all of the Puerto Ricans were pulled out of the darkness.

According to CBS News correspondent David Begnaud, an island–municipality of Puerto Rico, Isla de Vieques, is still operating on generators which are reportedly supporting the area's entire electrical grid.

Begnaud recently visited the area to find out how the residents were faring without any proper source of electricity – that too for more than a year.

As it turned out, the lack of reliable electricity didn’t just affect peoples’ everyday lives, it also proved to be deadly as vital medical equipment couldn’t be used, drugs couldn’t be refrigerated and patients with serious illnesses weren’t able to get adequate treatment on time.

"My neighbor's husband died and every agency failed to assist them,” said Betty, who owned a car rental on the island. “So we raised money, not only to help them with funeral expenses but also – their house was destroyed – to get tarps up to keep his wife dry. He had heart issues. And I think beyond the fact that there hours was destroyed, the anxiety and lack of getting medication. ... He was only 64."

Begnaud also learnt about another resident, Elias Salgado, who has to travel three times a week from Vieques to the mainland for his dialysis treatments. Ever since the hurricane hit the island, things got even tougher for Salgao, as now, apart from sitting for four hours for his treatment, he also has to travel for long hours from Vieques to Ceiba.

The news correspondent met another resident, identified as David Maldonado, who said the island’s only hospital wasn’t operational because of mold.

"I haven't seen any leadership since day one," said Maldonado.

Begnaud also got in touch with Vieques Mayor Victor Emeric, who claimed the island has at least spent half a million more than what it received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The mayor further complained the process of getting funds has been slow and stringent.

However, Begnaud went to the core of the matter and contacted the FEMA representative to inquire the reason behind the agency’s shoddy work at a time when the island needed all the aid it could get.

According to an official from FEMA, once the funds are handed to the central government, it becomes entirely the latter’s responsibility how they distribute it to the municipalities.

Moreover, to add to the ordeal, a resident who has lived on Vieques for 25 years said prices for the ferry most people use to get to and from the main island might go up in the near future.

"That is literally our road, and they are about to change all the prices and immediately … lower the quality of life by putting higher tariffs on the ferry for the people who live here, coming here and for the suppliers. Everything comes through there," said Mark Martin, who also co-founded Vieques Love, a non-profit that has raised more than a million dollars in donations.

"You have to start with some of the basic things that you don't have, which are health, security, safety, and in our case, transportation becomes an elemental one because it's how a lot of these things happen," he added, talking about what should be the most effective way to use funds in Vieques.

The Trump administration’s nonchalance when it comes to the plight of Puerto Ricans is well-documented. But, the fact the island in question has been forgotten and neglected for more than year, goes to highlight the intensity of the situation.

The unfortunate residents of Vieques have been reaching out via social media to tell their stories but as of yet, there hasn’t been any substantial progress made.

Banner Image Credits: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

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