Puerto Ricans continue to die in the wake of Hurricane María

He instantly recognized the voice of his father, Natalio Rodríguez Lebron, 77, a former nurse who cared for the mentally ill, people he believed society had forgotten.

He quickly climbed the stairs.

His father's health had been problematic for a long time. He had diabetes, lung disease, sleep apnea and congestive heart failure. And in the months since Hurricane Maria hit this coastal city, Lourdes saw her condition worsen. The sleep apnea machine he needed to help him breathe was useless for months because his neighborhood at the top of the hill in Maunabo was completely without power. In December, a business had donated a generator to power the machine at night, but the family had trouble buying the necessary gasoline to keep it running.

When Lourdes reached the top of the stairs, she felt an uneasy stillness in the air. The sky was thick and black. There was no visible moon. And the electric generator, a machine that sometimes rumbled like the engine of a car, had remained strangely silent.

He opened the door to the living room and saw his father holding his chest.

The machine was off. His father seemed unable to breathe.

  Natalio Rodríguez Lebron, center, shows up with his family.

His mother, Julia "Miriam" Rodriguez, stayed with Natalio while Lourdes hurriedly started the generator again, which had run out of gas, and turned on the breathing machine again. Her mother felt Natalio's body weaken in her arms and then she collapsed on the floor, face down.

Frantic, they called 911 and tried to comfort him.

While I was waiting there on the floor, Julia Rodriguez told me, she felt that the wind, a physical blast, left her husband's body and pbaded to his. She said it was as if the decades that had pbaded together: the movements of Puerto Rico to the mainland and back; the hours that both worked as nurses; the three children they raised: they fluttered in the room, a tangible and living thing, and then they became part of it.

Julia Rodriguez knew then that her husband could not survive.

All these months later, it seemed that the storm could have won.

* * * * *

It has been almost six months since Hurricane Maria.

Its howling winds, which exceeded 150 mph, have dissipated. The storm that hit Puerto Rico on September 20 before snagging north into the Atlantic is a memory.

However, in this republic of the United States, people are still dying in Mary's wake.

That is especially true for those who lack basic services such as electricity.

Rodríguez died on January 6. In addition to his death, CNN identified five people who died in 2018 from causes that friends, relatives, doctors or funeral directors consider to be related to Hurricane Maria and its consequences.

It is not possible to say with 100% certainty that a death so long after a storm was "caused" by Hurricane Maria, experts told me. But that is out of the question. These deaths show dangerous conditions that persist in Puerto Rico.

I spent several days in Maunabo, the town of Rodríguez on the southeast coast, and other areas without electricity, to try to understand how the communities are doing during all these months.

  Maunabo Puerto Rico remains out of the network almost six months after Maria, the mayor tells CNN.
I had been to Puerto Rico several times since the storm, reporting to CNN about issues ranging from untold deaths to water cuts and an "exodus" to the continental United States. In December, I drove all the way that the eye of the storm crossed the island. On that route, I met a woman whose watch stopped at 3:27 – at the moment the hurricane hit. Puerto Rico, apparently, was an island frozen in time, condemned to relive that day again and again.

Would it still be like this after six months?

Measurements of response to Hurricane Maria told me that this might be the case, at least for some residents. So did the academics and others who study how we respond to hurricanes.

Puerto Rico, according to some of these experts, seems to be stuck between the phases of "emergency" and "recovery" of the response to the disaster. Typically, in the United States, the emergency phase – in which people lack needs such as food, water, shelter and energy – lasts for days or, at the most, a few weeks, said Lori Peek, director of the Center Natural Hazards at the University of Colorado Boulder. Then comes the recovery, when residents, government agencies and others begin to rebuild.

"Here we are months after this storm and we are debating whether we should still send these emergency, really emergency and life support supports, or (we should) make the transition to this recovery process," Peek said. "That's really impressive."

It is true that progress has been made. Tourists return to San Juan, and parts of the city are buzzing. The casinos are open in the luxurious Condado and the bomba dancers are back in Río Piedras. One month after Maria, approximately 1 million of the 3.3 million US citizens remained here without running water. Now, almost everyone has it.

At the end of December, the US Army Corps of Engineers. UU It only dealt with about a third of temporary roof applications, which left some people sleeping in houses where it rained at night. Months later, almost all professionally installed canvas applications have been met. The formal shelters for hurricane victims are now empty, according to federal officials.

However, inequities remain, especially with respect to electricity.

As of March 7, more than 10% of electricity customers in Puerto Rico still did not have electricity, according to figures the utility reported to the US Department of Energy. UU It may sound small, but it represents almost 156,000 clients, and probably more than that number of people, since the average household in Puerto Rico is approximately three people.

Also note that figure in the context of other recent storms.

Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast of Texas on August 25. The next day, some 304,000 estimated customers had no electricity; however, almost 2,600 had electricity restored in 19 days, according to data provided by CNN by Public Utility. Texas Commission. Florida after Hurricane Irma? That storm left an estimated 6.2 million customers in Florida without electricity on September 11, according to the Florida Public Utilities Commission, which, like the commission in Texas, collects data on electrical services. In just over two weeks, virtually all the power had returned.

These comparisons are, of course, imprecise. No two storms are the same in terms of intensity, needs or geography. Puerto Rico is an island and, as federal officials have repeatedly said since the storm, you can not simply transport supplies from another state. Communications systems went down and many roads were impbadable in the first weeks after the storm. The island's electricity grid was also in poor condition, according to many accounts, before Hurricane Maria. Comparing that grid with Florida, which is the gold standard for preparation, is unfair, said Seth Guikema, an badociate professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, who studies networks and disaster response. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, he said, some Florida utilities built concrete poles and took other measures to ensure that power could be restored faster after the storms.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency of the United States. U.S., FEMA, which oversees disaster recovery, says it is doing everything possible to ensure that basic services in Puerto Rico are restored.

Michael Byrne, badistant manager of FEMA for field operations, told me in an interview that Puerto Rico's unique logistical challenges fully explain the delays. No other disaster in the United States has presented these unique and difficult circumstances, he said, which meant that FEMA had to invent a strategy on how to respond to the crisis. The unique situation here also makes comparisons between Mary's response and responses to other storms problematic, she said.

If the deaths related to the storm continue, he said, his heart is with the affected families. "The initial reaction is the reaction that anyone would have: I'm sorry to hear that, really, one of the things that you do not stop being, regardless of your work, is a human being." There are programs, he added, to help bring generators and financial badistance to storm victims, especially those who need vital medical services.

  The US Army Corps UU And FEMA says logistical problems, including the remote location of Puerto Rico, explain the delays in energy restoration.

In a statement e-mailed to CNN this week, the US Army Corps of Engineers. UU., Which is helping with the restoration of energy, said consecutive disasters of 2017, the remoteness of the island and the fact that some supplies had to be manufactured for installation in Puerto Rico, slowed down the work in the electrical system. "The helicopters have been used to transport poles, materials and people to remote locations by air to carry out repair work," the Corps said.

However, these explanations matter little to many of those who have been living without electricity for almost six months and have disappeared without water for much of that time.

They know another truth: the longer the wait, the more risk a person will run.

* * * * *

The family legend goes like this: The first of the ancestors of Natalio Rodríguez who arrived at Maunabo was hidden in a barrel aboard a ship of Africa. He could have arrived as a free man, they said. This is certain: Rodriguez's roots travel deeply in this fertile soil. The family has been here as long as anyone can remember.

By the time Natalio Rodríguez was born in December 1940, the eleventh of 12 children, much had changed in Puerto Rico, and even then, little had changed. Rodriguez grew up helping his father, Juan Inés Rodríguez Monclova, to work in the green fields of sugar cane behind his house on the side of a mountain with shark teeth. This was the work of their ancestors, too. The Africans enslaved Spaniards and, before that, the Taino Indians, who gave their name to Maunabo, worked in that industry.

Natalio Rodríguez and his neighbors had all those stories running through their veins. It is said that his original ancestor in Maunabo was married to a Spaniard, which is how the relatives explain that some of their cousins ​​and aunts have bright blue or green eyes, while the eyes and skin of Natalio and Lourdes carry the deep tones of the espresso and midnight.

  Lourdes Rodriguez, on the right, with her two children and mother, Julia

[19659025] When Rodriguez was a child, slavery had been abolished for a long time, of course; and the Spaniards had been expelled from Puerto Rico by a new colonial power: the United States. The United States, which occupied Puerto Rico in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, granted Puerto Rican citizenship about two decades before Rodriguez's birth. Even so, members of his family and neighbors could not elect their own governor until 1948. Even today, Puerto Ricans, although subject to United States law and receiving badistance from the United States, can not vote for president or elect members with the right to vote in Congress.

In spite of all that, the young Rodriguez remained enchanted with the American culture.

He loved Western films and books and grew up at the gallop of the family horses from the mountains to the valley, which housed the town square, not far from a lighthouse and the turquoise radiant coast. His childhood nickname was "Hormiguero", Spanish for anthill, his lifelong friend, Damian Lopez, 70, told me. I laughed and asked him about the origin of that name. The boy was a living verb, said Lopez, always in motion, never motionless.

That restlessness would take him to places that his father never saw.

Some of Rodriguez's older brothers enlisted in the US Army (one lost part of his hand in the Korean War, according to Julia Rodriguez) and, as a teenager, Natalio Rodríguez tried to do the same. Unable to join the service due to a cardiac arrhythmia, according to his wife, he found other ways to follow in his footsteps. After a brother moved to New York, bringing home exotic north-eastern foods such as cod, cherries and white grapes to a family that grew avocado, grapefruit and oranges, Rodriguez decided, after high school, to move there as well. He would become a great man like his father, 5 feet 9 and 300 pounds, and not contrary to physical work. But he began to bother helping in the sugar fields. Maunabo was, and is, desperately poor. (Fifty-six percent live below the poverty line, according to the US Census Bureau.) Some of their relatives still plowed their fields with bulls tied to ox carts. The brother who moved in seemed much happier and much richer. In the United States, Rodriguez thought, he would also have a better life.

Then, as a teenager, Rodriguez boarded a plane to New York.

"Right after leaving the booth, he stepped on a pile of dogs —"

Natalio loved telling this story, said his wife, Julia.

"I was like," Wow, so that's how you all live here, dodging heaps of poop in the streets! "& # 39;"

  Maunabo, located in the southeast of Puerto Rico , it is home to 11,500 people.

Julia Rodriguez grew up in Maunabo, too, just up the hill from Natalio and her family. The couple raised three children together, mainly in the continental United States.

For him, the 50 states were a place of promise and hope, a place of purpose and duty.

Still, strangely, that first impression of New York – the mud on the street – stayed with him, too.

He never felt completely settled, his wife told me.

He longed for his home.

In 2009, he and Julia finally resettled in Maunabo.

* * * * *

"Look," says Luis Lafuente, deputy mayor of Maunabo.

Point out a perfectly circular hole that extends from the roof of the town hall.

"There was the clock".

It was destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

  Crab and fishing are popular in Maunabo. The city hosts an annual crab festival.

Time has not stopped in this city, which is located in the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, near where Maria delivered her first blows. After the storm, it is almost irrelevant. On this day, March 9, Lafuente tells me that exactly 0% of the 11,500 residents of the area have been reconnected to the electricity grid on the same day that Hurricane Maria struck. Between 35% and 50% of residents do have electricity, he said, from three emergency generators installed on December 23 by the US government. UU But those generators are prone to failure, he said, and do not reach mountain communities. (The Army Corps said that the alleged "failures" are the result of generator changes, not problems with the equipment.) The Puerto Rican power authority – PREPA – told CNN that 37% of clients in Maunabo had the power on March 13, but did not specify the source of that electricity.)

At dusk, those mountains become silhouettes of coal. Few lights shine. Only the fortunate and the rich can afford personal generators.

We drive the Jeep Renegade of Lafuente around the city where he has spent his life. Some parts of him are unrecognizable to him. The playgrounds are twisted. The barn of a truck became scrap metal. Power lines are covered with poles like wet noodles. Some electric poles are so off center that they seem to do push-ups.

The hospital had to be relocated to another municipal building, which more recently had been the home of emergency management workers and the police. Those officers and workers, in turn, had to move to a public school that was closed before the storm. The hospital still has a sign that says "Emergency 24 Hours," which indicates that the emergency room never closes. The reconfigured hospital, however, opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Many of those who require emergency badistance earlier or earlier have to drive through an unlighted mountain tunnel, it feels like something out of "The Walking Dead", to seek medical help.

The five Maunabo schools reopened at the end of November. But students leave the clbad at 12:30 p.m. because there is no power A school principal that I met told me that she drives to other cities to make photocopies so that students can take exams. Teachers badign very little homework, she says, because the students are already so overwhelmed.

We pbaded by the lighthouse, perhaps the most emblematic site of Maunabo, to discover that Maria and her reflector and glbad have been destroyed. In any case, the Coast Guard had not used it since the 1990s, according to Wanda Marín Rivera, president of the board of the city's cultural center. But Lafuente and others hoped that tourism would revive the city, with the lighthouse as a destination, since sugarcane, bananas and crab fishing have not provided a stable job. (Maunabo became known as a center for crabbing.) Images of crabs are stamped on the sidewalks and painted on the walls, a crab statue is in front of the baseball stadium, which was badly damaged and a smaller one in the mayor's desk).

Despite the state of affairs, Lafuente says that Maunabo will improve. The tourists will come. The industry will work again. Already, he says, the crabs are setting traps with flashlights at night.

"The people of Maunabo are very motivated and eager to grow and make the city even better than it was before," he tells me. "We'll get up again, we're getting up"

* * * * *

At first, the mountain protected them.

The day Maria hit, Natalio Rodríguez curled up in a small bathroom with his wife, his daughter Lourdes, their two children and, near, Natalio's older sister. "We were crowded like tuna in a can," recalls Lourdes Rodríguez. Water spilled under the door. Natalio told everyone to stay calm, Lourdes told me. Meanwhile, he said, the house "trembled like Jell-O."

Still, they survived. Most of the house did it too. The hillside, which had raised so many of their ancestors and cultivated so many of their crops, protected them from the worst.

  Julia Rodriguez has been without electric power since Maria hit on September 20.

[19659025] It was after Mary that the real danger began.

The power was out. Water, too. Food was scarce. For several days, the winding and steep road to his mountain home was blocked, Lourdes said. It was a week before she could wait in long lines to buy gas and take her car to a hill in a neighboring city, Caguas, where she could call her relatives on the continent to say they had survived the hurricane. The communications systems in Maunabo remained essentially inoperable for months, he told me. Across the island, according to data from the government of Puerto Rico, only 25% of the cell towers were in operation until October 20.

It was in these isolated circumstances that the medical conditions of Natalio Rodríguez began to worsen. The difficulty in breathing was especially worrisome for his wife and daughter. The sleep apnea machine he used at night to carry oxygen to his lungs did not work without electricity. That meant he and his wife could not rest, let alone sleep. I went through the house at night and walked around the neighborhood during the day. In desperation, the family made cardboard fans for him to use to try to move the air around his face. Nobody thought it would help him breathe, really, but it was something.

"Suddenly he became a quiet person, he was a talker, and Pepito enjoyed long conversations," said Julia Rodriguez, using Natalio's nickname. "I could spend hours and hours talking, but then (after the storm) he did not talk much."

The family also cared about the insulin that was used for diabetes. Requires cooling. They did not have a refrigerator that worked without electricity. And the ice was hard to come by.

What they really needed, of course, was electricity.

On November 17, the town and plaza of Maunabo obtained energy from a small generator, purchased for $ 35,000 by the municipality, according to the mayor, Jorge Márquez. From her house in the mountains, Lourdes Rodriguez said, the family could see a faint glow. It seemed that the downhill city was on another planet.

Approximately one month later, the family received a small energy investor, said Lourdes Rodríguez. He ran for only two or three hours before running out of fuel, he said.

A larger generator was donated later, but the family had trouble providing the gasoline needed to run it, he told me. The fuel only cost them $ 60 per week while their father was alive, said Lourdes Rodríguez. In addition, there were filters, oil and repairs.

When the machine was on, they said, Natalio calmed down a bit.

But they could not keep it going.

* * * * *

Some of them died during the storm.

A landslide in Utuado, Puerto Rico, killed two "bed-ridden" sisters. Another person drowned in Toa Baja. But the aftermath of Hurricane Maria seems to have been more deadly.

  The hurricane debris piles up in a temporary landfill in March in Maunabo.

More than 1,000 "excessive deaths" occurred after the storm, in September and October 2017, that during the same period in 2016 and 2015, according to Alexis Santos, professor in Penn State. University that badyzed the mortality statistics of the Puerto Rican government.

That does not say that 1,000 people died directly because of Hurricane Maria. But it indicates that an unusual number of people were dying, and until well into October.

The only difference, Santos said, was the hurricane.

In November, I set up a CNN team to inspect the funeral homes in Puerto Rico. We could only reach half, but those directors and other staff members told us that they had seen at least 499 deaths that they considered related to the hurricane, based mainly on their conversations with family members. Then we documented the deaths of several untold people who died in the weeks after the hurricane, not just the day the storm hit. Among them was an elderly man in Cayey who died in a fire caused by a flashlight that he would not have used if he had had electricity; a man in Canovanas who committed suicide after the storm; and a woman in Corozal who did not have access to medical treatment. (Two deaths that we highlighted were then added to the Puerto Rico government's list of official deaths related to hurricanes).

Still, I did not expect the deaths to continue in 2018.

It is impossible to use statistics to prove that they are, because the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry has not published data for this year. (CNN and the Center for Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico are suing that agency for access to death records). Trends suggest that the aggregate loss of life in Puerto Rico is slowing and may have normalized, Santos told me.

Still, I was able to document several deaths that occurred this year and appear related to Maria's frantic sequel.

Several of the deaths that I investigated occurred in Maunabo.

Braulio Salinas Santiago, 71, died of an apparent heart attack in the parking lot of Maunabo's improvised hospital on January 18, according to his wife, Margarita Baerga Díaz. It was about 5 a.m., he said, before the hospital opened, which operated 24 hours a day, 7 days before dawn before the hurricane.

Similarly, Fulgencio Velázquez Chevalier died on February 20 in the car of his wife, Litza Rodríguez Figueroa. The 50-year-old man suffered from depression and intense anxiety after the storm, according to Rodríguez Figueroa, who is a nurse. She believes that stress, along with a related increase in smoking, contributed to her husband's heart failure. When he went through Maunabo's closed hospital, he told me that Velázquez was still alive.

Carmen Rodríguez Martínez died on January 25 at age 71.

Your doctor, Arturo Torres Borges, wrote two words on the death certificate in a place reserved for the circumstances that may have contributed to the death: "Hurricane Maria."

Causes of death include respiratory failure and heart disease.

  Héctor Pedraza, left, lost his mother, the wife of Herminio Trinidad, when he died in February after María.

Rodríguez Martínez required an oxygen machine to breathe, according to his daughter, Iris Janette de Jesús Rodriguez, 54. They still did not have electricity from the network when I visited at the end of February . One generator had not been enough, he said.

In Corozal, deeper in the mountains, Victor Manuel Belen Santiago cried when he told me that his mother, Zoraida Santiago Torres, 58, had saved his life by helping him kick drugs. addiction.

His home was destroyed by the storm, and Bethlehem Santiago rebuilt it by hand, confusing the remains of the roof and the walls like a castle of cards badembled. But he could not restore the power his mother needed to operate an oxygen machine. She died on February 13, she said, after receiving fluid in her lungs that could not be removed. Your death certificate lists the organ failure and a bacterial infection among the causes of death, along with chronic liver disease.

After the loss, Belen Santiago said he contemplated suicide.

His beloved mother had disappeared. I had no job, I had no prospects for a job after the debt crisis that hit Puerto Rico before the hurricane. It was not clear if life would ever feel safe again.

"We are the forgotten people," he said. "Es como si no existiéramos".

* * * * *

La mañana del 5 de enero comenzó como muchos otros, con un toque del grifo del bastón de su padre en el patio del segundo piso – La manera de Natalio Rodríguez de despertar a su hija por el día.

Lourdes Rodriguez puso los ojos en blanco juguetonamente y caminó arriba para ver lo que quería esta vez. Ella y sus dos hijos, de 13 y 8 años, habían estado durmiendo en camas gemelas en una habitación de la planta baja desde la tormenta. El techo de un nuevo hogar que habían estado construyendo fue arrancado por María.

Ella despertó a los gritos de su padre la noche siguiente, pero este día ahora ocupa un territorio diferente en su memoria. Ella lo considera uno de los mejores días de su vida.

Su padre parecía tan saludable, tan vivo.

Quería ir a todas partes ese día, ver todo. Él llevó su bastón con él mientras visitaba a su hermana, una monja, en Ponce, una ciudad en la costa sur. Pero lo mantuvo en su pliegue del codo, más adorno que muleta. En una heladería, fingió ser un turista americano despistado, utilizando el español afectado, pidiendo ver atracciones turísticas al otro lado de la isla. Los trabajadores de la tienda rieron cuando rompió la mordaza, dijo Lourdes Rodríguez. Pidió su sabor favorito: maracuyá con piña. Esa noche, comieron mariscos en un restaurante cerca de la playa.

 En marzo, las líneas eléctricas todavía estaban retorcidas y rotas en el sureste de Puerto Rico.

Ahora, Lourdes Rodriguez se pregunta por qué ese día fue diferente.

¿Tal vez fueron las próximas vacaciones? El 6 de enero es el Día de los Reyes Magos en Puerto Rico, o Epifanía, cuando los cristianos conmemoran la llegada de los sabios que visitan al niño Jesús.

Su padre había estado hablando de eso por un tiempo, diciéndoles a sus hijos que prepararan sus mejores ropas (la verdad era que la mayoría de sus prendas habían sido donadas después de la tormenta) para que pudieran ir a un asado de cerdo en una comunidad vecina . En años anteriores, habían recogido guitarras, ollas y palos y se habían ido cantando arriba y abajo de la ladera – una parranda puertorriqueña – cultivando la fiesta mientras visitaban una casa y luego la siguiente, ofreciendo comida y bebida y coleccionando historias .

¿Quizás estaba viviendo antes de ese día?

O tal vez este día fue su manera de decir adiós.

* * * * *

¿Qué está tomando tanto tiempo?

Esa pregunta me molestaba mientras informaba sobre los continuos cortes de electricidad en Puerto Rico. Y es una pregunta que claramente atormenta a muchos puertorriqueños.

Los expertos ofrecieron algunas teorías.

"Son estadounidenses pero no están representados en el Congreso", dijo el Dr. Irwin Redlener, director del Centro Nacional para Desastres. Preparación en la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. Eso significa que hay pocas repercusiones políticas por una respuesta fallida al desastre, dijo, y pocos abogan por la financiación. "Realmente se reduce al dinero, la pobreza y la política".

"Es desmesurado e irracional que haya tardado tanto" para restablecer el poder, dijo. "Tienes que preguntarte a ti mismo, '¿por qué es eso?' Es dinero y política, el denominador común de tantas cosas … ¿Se imaginan que no habrá energía (eléctrica) en Beaumont, Port Arthur o Rockport, Texas, por este período de tiempo? No me importa qué tipo de desastre was. Usted nunca vería esto ".

Byrne, funcionario de FEMA, dijo que este desastre ha sido financiado adecuadamente y que el gobierno federal está respondiendo a la crisis en Puerto Rico de la misma manera que lo haría en los 50 estados. "No nos vamos a ir", dijo. "Estamos aquí hasta que cumplamos con todos los requisitos que se necesitan".

A partir del 15 de marzo, FEMA gastó $ 1.1 mil millones en Puerto Rico; $ 1.6 mil millones en Texas; y $ 993 millones en Florida para asistencia individual después de los huracanes del otoño de 2017. "That's the initial, quickest payment to individual citizens for immediate needs, but the real cost is in long-term recovery dollars for infrastructure projects, like buildings, roads and other public facilities," which is not included in those figures, said Chris Currie, director of emergency management issues at the US Government Accountability Office.

Congressional appropriations for disaster response and recovery in recent months are not always itemized by storm, he said, making it difficult to say which hurricanes ultimately will be given the most federal funding. An estimated $23.2 billion has been appropriated specifically for Puerto Rico, according to The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates Maria caused $90 billion in damages; Harvey, $125 billion; and Irma, $50 billion.

Regardless of financing, the relative slowness of the recovery in Puerto Rico is seen by some people here as dehumanizing.

Life is returning to parts of San Juan, the capital, but hurricane damage remains.

In a way, Maria has revealed the ugly colonial relationship between the island and the United States, said Silvia Álvarez Curbelo, a historian and director of the research center at the University of Puerto Rico's school of communications.

"This raw nerve of colonialism comes creeping in in every conversation" these days, she told me. "It's this feeling of subordination. The people — common people — have no way (to respond) except to wait. Wait for this letter. Wait to see if FEMA comes to town. Wait to see if the federal government comes (though) with the money they told us they would give us for recovery."

Such frustrations reached a boiling point in the past.

There were plenty of other factors at play, but Spain's failure to address a humanitarian and economic crisis after an 1867 hurricane in Puerto Rico "provided the context for the first political movement for independence on the island," Stuart Schwartz, a Yale history professor, writes in "Sea of Storms."

The uprising, however, was "crushed immediately," said Álvarez Curbelo, from the University of Puerto Rico. Nothing like that ever would be tried today, she said. While Puerto Ricans have worked hard to create a national cultural identity, and while the idea of independence was popular decades ago, few Puerto Ricans in recent years have supported political independence from the United States, according to Florida International University anthropologist Jorge Duany.

If anything, Álvarez Curbelo expects Puerto Rico to sink further into "political paralysis" and become more US-dependent after Maria.

She doesn't see the United States granting Puerto Rico full rights as the 51st state, a move that likely would require the approval of Congress. Remember, she said, this storm follows a mbadive debt crisis in which the island's government declared bankruptcy. What does Puerto Rico have to offer the United States now? A fiscal oversight board, appointed by the US President, is steering austerity measures. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans have been taught, generation after generation, she said, to believe that they cannot survive without the help of a colonial power.

"I'm not a pessimistic person," she told me. "I'm a historian. I tend to be sober. I watch the long trends. But I don't see the light — in the total sense of the word 'light.' The thing about power is it's a metaphor for the island. The fragility of the energy system — of the power system — is the perfect metaphor for our condition: The light comes and goes. There is no sense of future."

* * * * *

The ambulance arrived at 2:18 a.m. on January 6, records show.

It was too late.

Natalio Rodriguez Lebron died at 1:23 a.m.

According to the death certificate, Rodriguez's death was caused by chronic lung disease, hypertension and diabetes. In the notes on that document, a doctor from the Puerto Rico Bureau of Forensic Sciences also mentioned that he was a smoker and obese.

That bureau, in San Juan, is the only laboratory in Puerto Rico authorized to clbadify deaths as hurricane-related. In the months after Maria, the office has come under criticism, including from CNN, for possibly missing dozens if not hundreds of "indirect" hurricane deaths.

The US government installed three emergency generators in Maunabo to try to re-electrify the town.

The official death toll has stood at 64 since early December.

In February, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced Puerto Rico had enlisted the help of George Washington University to study the mortality that followed Hurricane Maria. That badysis, due out in coming months, will focus on deaths from September through February.

To date, Natalio Rodriguez's death has not been clbadified as hurricane-related. Puerto Rico's Department of Public Safety, which oversees the forensics bureau, did not respond to repeat requests for comment on his death and others in this story.

Rodriguez's family believes his death was related to Hurricane Maria. His doctor, Pedro Lopez Lopez, shares that view. Rodriguez's health deteriorated in the conditions Maria left behind, he told me. He saw Natalio about two weeks before his death; and he was "stable" then, he said.

The body was not delivered to the forensics office until 2:38 the following afternoon, a time that forensics documents confirm. By afternoon, the body had started to decompose. The family was told it would be impossible to have an open-casket service, as is the norm in Puerto Rico.

The closed casket was the hardest part of the funeral, a longtime friend told me.

"It was terrible," Damian Lopez said. "If you love someone, you'd like to see him for one last time."

There was also the matter of the expense.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency manages a program that can cover some funeral expenses for eligible families after hurricanes. But those deaths typically must be certified as hurricane-related in order to qualify.

The Rodriguez family already put $4,000 toward his funeral, a receipt shows.

They still owe $1,115.

In December, FEMA did grant the family $4,000 for home repairs and $3,000 to replace household items that were damaged in Maria, Lourdes Rodriguez said. Julia Rodriguez told me friends and relatives tried to offer the family money after the storm but that her husband turned away the help. He was a proud person, she said, and generous. He also knew that everyone in the community was suffering.

* * * * *

People will keep dying until power is restored.

That's the stark badessment Arturo Torres Borges shared with my colleagues Leyla Santiago and Khushbu Shah, who tipped me off to the possibility of continued deaths in Maunabo. Torres is the medical doctor who wrote "Huracán Maria" on the death certificate of a local woman.

Natalio Rodriguez's doctor puts it this way: "This is a public health crisis." I met plenty of people at risk in Maunabo.

Some are so sick of the situation they try to laugh it off.

Zoraida Santiago Torres, 58, died February 13. Her family members believe a lack of electric power contributed to her death.

Across the street from Litza Rodriguez Figueroa, whose husband died in February, lives Ana Ramos Davila, a 74-year-old who will insist you drink her bottled water and then ask if you have any cute gringo friends who would drink Coors Light and play dominoes with her.

That's the dream! she said — gringos, Coors and dominoes.

Post-Maria has included little of that.

"Christ! When is this going to be over?" she said of the storm. "I've spent $100 or more just on bags of ice" to try to keep food cool without power. "No one is helping me, my dear."

"I already told my psychologist if you get a call that I took my life, don't be amazed," she said, serious. "I'm so tired of this — looking for supplies, finding water, lighting candles. I'm so tired."

A few houses up the street, I met David Torres and Juanita Guzman, who were having their home repainted. Torres showed me a breathing machine he's supposed to use at night but doesn't, he said, because it requires a steady power source and could short circuit without one. He has a small generator — "I use it to turn on one light and one fan; if I turn on the light, I have to turn off the fan." It doesn't provide steady enough power to run the machine, he said.

"I need my oxygen mask. One of these days my wife is going to wake up and find me dead by her side," he said. "She told me that in the night she hears me having trouble breathing."

"If it's my time to die, I'll die," he said, laughing. "There's nothing I can do."

Experts say post-storm stress and depression can be deadly.

Poverty exacerbates the risks, said Redlener, from Columbia University.

The way people interpret a disaster matters, too. If they believe the disaster is simply weather-related rather than manmade, they're more likely to accept it, said Peek, from the University of Colorado. What she fears is that Puerto Ricans are struggling because of the human response to the hurricane.

"It's like the despair effect," she said. "People who feel forgotten and neglected — they may suffer negative mental health effects."

Up the hill from the Rodriguez family live Miguel Amaro Leon, 79, and Maria Morales Ortiz, 76. They welcomed me onto their outdoor patio just as the sun was setting. A generator roared behind our conversation as they told me how hard it's been to keep the thing running.

"It's been really difficult because we have to pay for the gas," Amaro Leon said. "We only use the generator three or four hours daily. If not, we would have to spend more money."

Can they keep their insulin cold?

"More or less."

"We try to eat food that doesn't need to be in the refrigerator."

As we talked, the generator ran out of gas.

Frogs chirped in the night.

"Things are getting better little by little," Amaro Leon said. "We just need power."

* * * * *

On my last evening in Maunabo, Lourdes Rodriguez took me to see her father's grave. It's in a cemetery in the valley, not far from the town plaza. Looking across the property, you can see the foggy mountains in the distance where so many of Lourdes' relatives cut sugar cane and plowed the earth, first under the rule of the Spanish and now the United States commonwealth.


Tears streamed down her cheeks.

Her father's family nickname — "Pepito" — was written by hand in wet cement.

The family hasn't been able to pay for a headstone.

"I can't fix it," she said, sobbing. "It's hard for me to see it that way."

Álvarez Curbelo, the professor at the University of Puerto Rico, told me earlier that she wished Hurricane Maria's dead could speak. That way they would not be ignored.

I asked Lourdes what she thought her father would say if he could talk with us now.

"He would tell us to keep calm," she said, somber. "That was always his saying: 'Take it one day at a time.' Don't think about the next week or the next month.

"Take it one day at a time."

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