PUERTO RICO (WBTV) - When Hurricane Maria unleashed on Puerto Rico nine months ago, Samaritan's Purse was already on the island. The Boone-based humanitarian aid group had already set up shop after Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean weeks before. And nine months later, they're still there.
After assisting with Maria's emergency aftermath, Samaritan's Purse established a Long-Term Relief plan in Puerto Rico. The group currently has more than forty people helping the island get back to normal as many Puerto Ricans are still waiting for the lights to come back on.
While the Puerto Rican government said 64 people initially lost their lives during Maria, a study published Tuesday by Harvard University found 4,645 more died between September 20th and December 31st, 2017, representing a 64% mortality rate increase from the year before.
Samaritan's Purse is working to identify the most vulnerable families in the town of Yabucoa, where they've began installing home solar panels. In February, WBTV visited the ocean-side municipality that took a direct hit from Maria. Our camera documented a town with virtually no electricity. But not much has changed months later.
Samaritan's Purse worked with the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to determine the town's that may be last on the list to have power restored and that led them to Yabucoa.
Once supplies arrive, Samaritan's Purse hopes to install solar energy in 100 homes in Yabucoa. They've been working with local churches and faith-based organizations to identify vulnerable homes where the elderly, disabled, special needs families are living.
When electricity is eventually restored to those homes, the panels will stay with the families to help reduce energy costs and prevent future outages.
When WBTV talked to people living in Yabucoa months ago, they were eager for the electricity to come back on, but also surprisingly optimistic, trying to make the best out of their current situation. But as hurricane season approaches again, the Samaritan's Purse team says Puerto Ricans are getting tired. They're worried they'll have to relive Maria's horror again and hope is slowly disappearing. But Samaritan's Purse is working to restore it.