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Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Everista Alicea Gonzalez lives alone in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. Weeks after hurricane Maria, she was still without water, electricity, and communication. She said she had not seen anyone from FEMA, the National Guard or any other relief effort. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, knocking out the entire electrical grid and leaving more than 60 percent of residents without running water, Yahoo News joined Megan Vazquez, who works in the IT department at Yahoo, as she traveled to the island to visit her family in the aftermath of the storm.

We drove into the mountains and passed families collecting water and bathing in streams along the way. We swerved to avoid downed power lines and uprooted trees that blocked the steep, treacherous roads to Utuado and Ciales, where we visited an elderly couple from whom Megan’s father, Jesse, receives an alternative treatment for his heart condition. Isolated and completely cut off from communication, their house sat in the direct path of a potential mudslide.

We waded through sheets of rain and watched water splash above the tires of the cars in front of us as flash-flood warnings blared over the radio. On the highway near San Juan, we passed a billboard advising people to visit a website where the Puerto Rican government has been posting updates on the progress of the recovery effort, and we wondered how, without electricity, internet or decent cell service, most Puerto Ricans would be able to access this important information.

Back at the Vazquez house, we celebrated the return of running water, only to lament its disappearance 24 hours later. Megan and I stood outside in the rain and rinsed our hair in the water that flowed alongside the curb.

We discussed President Trump and whether the speed and scope of the federal government’s response to Puerto Rico had more to do with the island’s lack of the political clout that comes with statehood than with the current administration.

“I think that if [Trump] didn’t exist it would be the same,” Jesse said of the federal relief effort. “I really do believe that.”

Megan marveled at how many people on the mainland don’t even realize that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, or that its more than 3.4 million residents are American citizens.

“There’s still a divide between Puerto Ricans and the United States, and it’s on the U.S.’s part,” she said.

Photography by Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News

READ MORE: In a devastated Puerto Rican landscape, getting by on tenacity, patience and the kindness of neighbors »

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