Associated Press photographer Ramon Espinosa spent weeks roaming Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September.
He documented the lives of Puerto Ricans who lost roofs and possessions in the storm. Others saw their houses torn completely from their foundations, leaving only concrete bases.
He found some well along the path to recovery — erecting concrete homes after wood houses were swept off by Maria's winds.
Others are half-recovered: A 69-year-old woman living on federal assistance has new walls but a fragile metal roof that is screwed on to wood planks and certain to fly away in the next major storm.
Others lost everything and have no recovery in sight, including a couple who sold the car where they were sleeping after the storm so they could outfit a narrow sleeping space behind a parent's damaged home in Puerto Rico's central mountains.
Across Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of homes still don’t have roofs. FEMA distributed 59,000 enormous plastic sheets to homeowners who lost their roofs in Irma or Maria. More than 100,000 more received smaller tarps to protect specific rooms or belongings. Only 21,000 households have received federal aid to carry out permanent repairs.
FEMA officials say that longstanding rules prevented federal officials from granting reconstruction aid to storm victims who don’t have title to homes. In many such cases, storm victims were informally given property by a relative or inherited without a will or deed.
Officials say those rules are being loosened so victims can prove ownership with proof such as a long history of paying utility bills.
Espinosa revisited the people and places in his pictures ahead of the June 1 start of the 2018 hurricane season to see how they were living eight months after the disaster.
Juana Sostre Vazquez
Juana Sostre Vazquez saw her wooden home off its foundation in the central mountain highlands. Living on food stamps and Social Security payments, the 69-year-old grandmother rebuilt with the help of her son-in-law and $14,000 in FEMA reconstruction aid. She said her metal roof is nailed onto wooden two-by-fours because she couldn’t afford to build stronger hopes the next hurricane won’t send it flying. “The money didn’t let us do the roof,” she said. “I’m doing it little by little as I save a couple of dollars.”
Roberto Figueroa Caballero
Maria completely destroyed Roberto Figueroa Caballero’s home and dozens of others in La Perla, a seaside neighborhood of San Juan made famous by the Luis Fonsi hit “Despacito.” Figueroa works in a pizzeria, lives in a rented apartment and hopes to rebuild his home, but says the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected his application for construction aid twice, saying he does not qualify. Figueroa is appealing.
William Fontan Quintero and his wife Yadira Sostre
William Fontan Quintero and his wife Yadira Sostre saw their home destroyed when Maria passed over the San Lorenzo neighborhood in the town of Morovis. The couple says FEMA rejected their application for financial help but they received $8,000 from family to replace their belongings, which they invested in wood to build a small home where they live with their two college-age children. The roof is a plastic tarp while they wait for their application to FEMA to be approved so they can finish rebuilding.“We don’t have time to build anything safe without help,” Quintero said.
Luis Cosme, a worker at a cleaning company, felt the high winds as Maria neared and ran to the shelter at the Catholic church building. In the morning he came out and saw his house gone. “Thank God I am alive!” he said.
Rafael Reyes, a 41-year-old father and husband, collects Social Security and has been living with his in-laws. He says he plans to rebuild with FEMA's $31,000 assistance, but will need another $50,000 to finish it. This time, he says he'll build it in stone, instead of wood.
Blanca Rivera and Eduard Rodriguez
Blanca Rivera and Eduard Rodriguez slept in their car after Maria destroyed their home in San Lorenzo. The couple says FEMA rejected their request for financial help to rebuild, so they sold their car to build a room next to his mother’s house. “It’s sad,” Rodriguez says. “So sad.”
When Maria hit, Arden Dragoni was living with his wife Sindy, three children and dog Max in the town of Toa Baja. Today, Dragoni is hunting for work and has separated from his wife, who is living with their children in a FEMA-subsidized apartment.“The hurricane brought us many calamities but I learned to value my family from my heart,” Dragoni says.
The Guajataca Dam was damaged during Hurricane Maria and currently, repairs continue. The 345-yard (316-meter) dam, which was built around 1928, holds back a manmade lake covering about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers) repair.
Cemetery in Aguada
Officer Luis Angel Gonzalez Lorenzo was killed during the passage of Hurricane Maria when he tried to cross a river in his car. On Sept. 29, 2017, his fellow offivers attended his funeral in a cemetery in Aguada, Puerto Rico. The local police force of Aguadilla and Aguada lacks about a dozen officers since the storm, due to resignations and retirements. The U.S. territory's bankruptcy has frozen promotions, salaries, new hires and some police academies have even closed.
Highway in Naranjito
After Hurricane Maria, people without running water went to a highway in Naranjito, Puerto Rico for bathing, washing clothes and dishes. Thanks to the owners of the land alongside the highway, creek water was piped to the side of the road for use.
Farm in the San Lorenzo
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican National Guards delivered food and water to desperate residents on a farm in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis. For two months, stranded residents came to this spot for supplies handed out by the National Guard after the passing of the storm.
Bridge in the San Lorenzo
After Hurricane Maria destroyed an old bridge in the San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, people on both sides of the bridge were left stranded when it collapsed, turning a 45 minute commute to the other side into a three hour odyssey. A new bridge has been build in the same location.
Text from the AP news story, As storm season starts, AP photographer revisits Puerto Rico, by Michael Weissenstein.
Photos by Ramon Espinosa