In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria

Socorro Rolon’s house. Photo: Stan Cox.

Abandoned by their country, residents refuse to accept the idea that they will never recover.

Nearly a year and a half after Hurricane Maria, about three-fourths of the houses in the Sierra Brava neighborhood of Salinas, Puerto Rico stand battered and empty.

Some families left because their homes were rendered uninhabitable and they had no money to fix them. Others left because they lost their jobs. In responding to Maria, federal agencies had hired some local people, but just for a few months; meanwhile, many other jobs disappeared and have not come back.

Sierra Brava lies low along the south side of PR Route 3 in the shadow of Salinas City Hall. Go for a walk through its now largely silent streets, and one residence in particular will catch your eye. On a corner along Calle Abraham Peña, the neighborhood’s four-block-long main avenue, stands a small grey house trimmed in bright blue and topped by a blue plastic tarp. It is in even worse shape than some of the abandoned houses. But Wilma Miranda Ramos still calls it home.

The hurricane shifted Wilma’s ramshackle little box on its foundation, separating the front and rear halves and giving it a distinct sideways tilt. Thanks to waters that flooded down the nearby Río Nigua from the mountains on the day of the storm, the floors now undulate wildly and give underfoot. Large portions of the ceiling are gone, and blue light streams in through the tarp above. Water pours in with…

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