WBTV On Assignment: Puerto Rico after Maria

WBTV On Assignment: Puerto Rico after Maria
(Sarah-Blake Morgan | WBTV)

PUERTO RICO (WBTV) - Puerto Rico is alive. Its music, its people, and their passion make you understand why the tiny island is so proud of who they are and where they've come from.

"It's just the way we're raised. You ask me if I'm American. I'm a US citizen, but I'm Puerto Rican," Adriana Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez and her husband moved back to Puerto Rico from New Orleans right before Hurricane Maria unleashed her wrath.

"Everybody said we were crazy, we should have left. We had no property, no kids. We just go back on a plane and left. But it just didn't feel right. If it's up to me I spend my life here, I have my kids here. So we loved New Orleans, but we just needed to come back and see if there was an opportunity for us here," she said.

Life in San Juan is slowly getting back to normal. The tourists are back in Colon Square where Maria Roena and her husband have been selling pottery for 49 years. The storm her same name couldn't have been more different than the woman's spirit.

"It was a unique experience where God taught us a lot of things," Roena said.

Walk down many streets in the city and it's hard to find remnants of Maria. But you don't have to drive far to see people who feel like they've been forgotten.

"We all lost different things, we all went through different things through the hurricane. But emotionally it was the same for us all," Roena said.

The coastal town of Yabucoa took a direct hit. Their town hall was damaged so badly that officials are using a home for their offices. Deputy Mayor Wanda Castro Toro says many of their residents are still without power.

"When we looked out the window after the hurricane, we saw all the destruction. The roof was flying and the trees were knocked down," Castro Toro said.

Ramona Ramos Sostres is one of the people waiting for the lights to come back on. Her home is unlivable, so she's staying with relatives next door.

"It's really hard to live in those conditions. But we keep surviving till we get used to it," she said.

In small Puerto Rican towns like Yabucoa baseball is king. And Maria did everything she could to dethrone it. Their stadium, which once was the center of the community, has largely been reduced to rubble. While some still try to practice on the field, it will have to be demolished.

The team's board is meeting to brainstorm alternatives because even though there's nothing they could do about, they feel like they've let Yabucoa down.

"There was a lot of suffering and I feel bad. And because Yabucoa stadium is where people gather to share. It's hard," Team owner Hector Tellez told WBTV.

In Yabucoa, 95% of the structures were damaged, according to the deputy mayor and they say they've yet to receive the help they need.

But on the other side of the Island, in the mountains near Ponce, people are working hard to restore a sense of normalcy. More than 200 Duke Energy lineman and support staff have been working for nearly six weeks to restore power and give back something many people have been without for so long now.

Duke is one of more the 30 mainland power companies currently working on the island.

Russell Manning traveled to work in Puerto Rico from Charlotte.

"We take power for granted. Back home we're complaining if we lose power for an hour so to be without power for four or five months is unimaginable," he said.

The conditions the Duke crews are working in are unlike anything they've ever experienced.

"It's very remote. Very mountainous. This whole island is a big mountain. Seems like everywhere we go we're going up or down," Manning said.

Ryan Drake and his team have been working in the Mt. Verde area.

"This particular mountain has about 12 hundred customers. We started a few weeks ago and we're down to the last 100," Drake said.

Nearly every day, the work pauses at noon when many of the crews are treated to lunch by one of the families that now have power again. Duke Energy's Juan Rosado has been amazed by the Puerto Rican gratitude.

"The people are so friendly. They've been nothing but helpful and as use see today, they've really provided more than we could have expected," he said.

But it's nothing new for him. While Rosado is from North Carolina, he feels like he's coming home. His father was born and raised in Ponce.

"It's been a trip of a lifetime. We're working a lot of hours and we're working hard but to be able to come and see where my family started out," he said.

As of February 26, Puerto Rico's power company estimates 95% of their power has been restored. The region Duke Energy is working in is nearly complete. But there are still many people waiting and the US Army Corp of Engineers estimates it could be another two months before 100% of the power is restored.

"You want more for the people still struggling, and it's a thing of - nobody should live like that. No US citizen should go through that," Gonzalez said.

Spend time in Puerto Rico and it won't take you long to realize its people are survivors. They may have been knocked down but Maria was no match for the Puerto Rican Spirit. Just ask Ramona Ramos Sostres as she sits on her porch waiting for the power to turn on once again.

"We just need time," she said. "We are resilient and we're going to get up."

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