Exclusive look inside the destroyed mountain homes of Puerto Rico 8 months after Hurricane Maria

UTUADO, PUERTO RICO — There are some people in the mountain pueblos of Puerto Rico near Utuado that have been without power since September 20. The day Hurricane Maria unleashed her wrath on the island of 1.5 million people.

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska traveled to Puerto Rico with Antonio Paris to get a first-hand look at what people are going through.

Paris lives in Pinellas County now, but the Army veteran and Planetary Scientist, has been traveling to the island to deliver supplies for people in need. On his GoFundMe, Paris raised more than a $100,000 in hurricane relief.

PHOTOS: Puerto Rico devastated after Hurricane Maria

“I was born and raised here in Utuado, Puerto Rico, so when I saw my friends and family were in desperate need of assistance I thought it was my duty to come and help them out," he said.

Paris focused on the rural mountain towns that have the most need.

“The inner towns, Utuado, Lares, Adjuntas they still lack power, fresh water,” Paris said. “And, I think my personal opinion is, that the elderly people are in need the most.”

We were with Paris for his 8th trip to bring supplies. During past missions, he has brought in solar batteries, food, medical supplies, and other items islanders desperately needed. 

During our trip, Paris said he wanted to focus solely on bringing in water.  

 

 

House by house Paris honked his horn or yelled out, “necesitan agua’ and people came running, at times pointing us to the houses of their family members.

ABC Action News talked to dozens of people who told us they still have no power or clean drinking water.
 

“I don’t have water, electricity, I can’t go anywhere because I don’t have a car,” Salvador Santiago said. 

Half of Santiago’s mountain home was washed down the mountain during mudslides and torrential rains. Santiago is now living in half a home and despite having four walls in his bedroom he is basically camping.

Santiago is not alone — a lot of people that live in the mountains feel isolated and alone.

“I am very worried about the hurricane season,” Luz Perez said. Perez said she got power at the end of April. But, it still comes and goes at the favor of the electric grid. She doesn’t think the government focuses enough attention on the rural areas.

Widespread power outage persists in Puerto Rico

“We live so far away they forget about us, they work in the city,” Perez said. 

Paris said there are signs that things are improving. Roads are passable. However, a lot of areas have been abandoned. 

“It is concerning, that in my last three trips, we’ve seen not only elderly but every other trip we come we see less and less people and more abandoned homes,” Paris said.  

Paris said the youth have left the mountains leaving some of their elderly relatives to fend for themselves.
 

“Everything has to be done by hand,” Joe Negron said. 

Negron still has several feet of mud in his home. He has health issues. But, his daughter said she will not abandon her family.

"I would love to move. But, I can’t find it in my heart to leave my family behind,” Rosangelee Negron said.  

For now, she is sticking it out the pain and suffering.

"It’s hard because we have to buy gas every three days and it is very expensive to buy gas every three days for a generator. We have water from the mountain but it’s not drinkable,” Rosangelee Negron said.  

She worries what another hurricane hitting Puerto Rico would mean for her and her family.

“My biggest fear is that it will be a lot harder for people to come rescue us.”

An estimated 70,000 people are still without power on the island.  

Paris has two more trips planned to deliver supplies. He prays the island he was born and raised in doesn’t get hit again.

“The people are very humble and they are courageous and they are not giving up,” Paris said. “They understand the situation is not the best that was handed to them but they are not giving up this is their island and they are going to stay.”

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