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The Island Next Door

A team of Connecticut veterans and volunteers -- self-described as the Puerto Rican "water dogs" -- pumps water from a river in Salinas, Puerto Rico through a mobile filtration and purification system for residents there to drink.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

It’s been more than six months since Hurricane Maria tore through the island of Puerto Rico — taking out power lines, destroying homes, disrupting industries, raking the island’s forests, and displacing families.

Connecticut Public Radio’s reporters have covered the aftermath of the storm both from the mainland and from the island’s streets and mountains.  We’ve told stories about families still trying to provide the basics, college students reimagining their futures, schools adapting to hundreds of new students, and people just hoping to furnish their new, but empty, apartments.

Our reporters and editors decided to cover Hurricane Maria because — with nearly 300,000 state residents who claim island roots — it’s a local story. The island is an ocean away from our newsroom, but it might as well be one town over. Connecticut Public Radio is committed to telling these stories of people touched by the storm.

  

If you have loved ones in Puerto Rico and want to share your story, please email us at news@wnpr.org. You can also join a Facebook group WNPR in Puerto Rico After Maria. 

Coverage of Hurricane Maria from WNPR, the New England News Collaborative, and NPR:

The Federico Mathew Baez in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico closed over a year ago.  Now, community members are working to turn it into a community center.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

This used to be Gamaliel Laboy Andino’s school. But he doesn’t go here anymore. No one does -- not since the government closed it more than a year ago. It saddened him, he said, because there are students who now have to go to school far away.

“It makes me sad, because there are students who don’t have anywhere to go,” he said.

The vigil took place on McLevy Green in Bridgeport and was held in memory of those that died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria -- one year to the day that the storm hit Puerto Rico.
Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

A vigil was held in Bridgeport Thursday — one year after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

The event was a small, solemn gathering held in memory of those who died.

As Hurricane Maria bore down on Puerto Rico, Jason Ortiz, president of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda was already working on relief efforts.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Vigils will be held Thursday in Hartford and Bridgeport to mark one year since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico.

Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

Rallies are scheduled Thursday in Bridgeport and Hartford to commemorate the one year mark since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico. But, the Hartford event is facing a bit of an administrative obstacle.

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, chef José Andrés and the groups he founded, World Central Kitchen and Chefs for Puerto Rico, sprung into action.

"We began serving hospitals, because the doctors and the nurses — nobody was feeding them," Andrés says of the initial effort.

But then calls started pouring in from places that were hours away from San Juan. Andrés says the message was clear: "The island is hungry. With one restaurant alone, we have not enough."

Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

The Puerto Rican government has acknowledged that nearly 3,000 people died after Hurricane Maria hit the island last year. At first, it said that only 64 people perished as a result of the storm.

Updated at 9:25 p.m. ET

Puerto Rico's governor updated the island's official death toll for victims of Hurricane Maria on Tuesday, hours after independent researchers from George Washington University released a study estimating the hurricane caused 2,975 deaths in the six months following the storm.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Last fall, 2,281 new students poured into Connecticut from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Sixty-five percent of them went to five of the state's largest cities -- the ones that were already dealing with fiscal crises.

At least 1,800 displaced students enrolled in Connecticut's public schools, including about 40 new schoolchildren at the Maria Sanchez School in Hartford.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

School districts in Connecticut that took in evacuees in the wake of Hurricane Maria will receive $10.6 million in federal aid from the United States Department of Education. The money is the long-awaited funding that will be used to help schools that took in students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Update: The Puerto Rican government acknowledged in a preliminary draft recovery plan submitted to Congress that it is likely more than 1,400 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Another study is out that places the death toll related to Hurricane Maria much higher than the estimate originally put out by the Puerto Rican government.

Jose Jimenez-Tirado

When Hurricane Maria barreled into Puerto Rico last year, it swept away homes, businesses, and jobs. Not only did it leave a catastrophic environmental mess, but Maria also blew away any remaining cover for the island’s dire fiscal crisis. That’s affecting the basics of life like power and education, but it goes further. Shifting financial priorities are also affecting the arts.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

You only have to ask Ramón Luis Morales once to know that the trauma of Hurricane Maria is still fresh.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

The state of Connecticut has set aside $1.5 million to meet the needs of Puerto Rican evacuees and the Connecticut municipalities that took them in for the current fiscal year.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Alberto Díaz lost most of what he had when Maria passed through. Nine months later, he is making opportunity out of disaster. His kitchen is a kitchen again. He used some wood he found to make a homemade tostonera -- a tool for smashing green plantains. Someone was throwing out a basketball court, so he took it, cleaned it, cut it, and now he’s got new wooden floors.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

The island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, is an isolated place known both for its remote beaches and the decades during which the U.S. Navy used those beaches for bombing runs and training exercises.

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