On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in southeast Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm. Maria’s 150 mph winds knocked out the entire island’s communications, and millions of people lost power that would take over 10 months to fully restore. Without power, the water distribution systems in many towns failed. Main roads were washed out, leaving communities without food and water. In some cases, people were sourcing their drinking water from Superfund sites. Within weeks of Maria people on the island were dying of complications from treatable diseases like leptospirosis and diabetes. In the absence of government aid, people worked together with their neighbors to clear debris from the roads, repair their homes and rebuild their lives. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives began visiting communities in October. The wealthier parts of San Juan, Guaynabo and Rincón benefited from the assistance, but many people in poor and rural areas continued to rely on volunteer labor and donated supplies.
After coordinating with family and friends on the island, Joaquin took donated water filters, solar lamps, chargers, tarps, diapers, hygiene products, insulin and syringes to people in rural mountain areas. In his travels he met Carmen Salas, a San Juan artist, photographer and federal relief worker who had been recording her experiences in remote towns including Yabucoa, Yauco, Utuado and Añasco. After hearing people’s stories firsthand, she decided to self-produce a documentary about the ongoing rebuilding efforts.
This is a collection of Salas’ photos, with contributions from Joaquin, and photographers Armando Díaz and Guillermo Aviles. Ranging back to the day after the storm, they depict destruction and resilience in post-Maria Puerto Rico.
Joaquín Cotler is a reporter and producer living in Brooklyn, New York. A GroundTruth Reporting Fellow, he was awarded the Marguerite Casey Equal Voices Fellowship in 2017 to cover the opioid crisis in Puerto Rico. Since Hurricane María, Joaquín has reported extensively on the island’s rebuilding efforts. His work has been featured on NPR’s LatinoUSA, Rewire.News, Univision and Vice.
Born and raised in New York City, Angely Mercado is an editor and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Bushwick Daily, The Lily, NPR, HelloGiggles and more. She writes about New York City, Latinidad and more.