What life is like in one of the hardest-hit cities nearly 1 year after Hurricane Maria

Resident says recovery has been worse than the storm

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico – Almost a year after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico, rebuilding continues, including in Vieques, which was one of the hardest-hit areas. 

With a population of about 10,000 people, the city sits east of the mainland. The island is only a 15- to 20-minute plane ride from the mainland, but for residents who live on the island the distance couldn't be farther post-Hurricane Maria. 

Angel Rodriguez calls Vieques home. Now living in Mayaguez to earn his doctorate, home is never too far away. 

"We're used to being isolated because we're an island on an island, right?" Rodriguez said. 

A few days before Maria was set to make landfall, he decided to stay with his mom in her Vieques home to make sure she was OK. 

What was intended to be a few days' stay turned into months. 

"The worst part of the storm wasn't the storm itself. It was the recovery," Rodriguez said. 

It was the community that banded together to clean the streets of debris left behind. 

The street Rodriguez's home sat on was covered with electrical and phone lines. It took him and neighbors about three days to clear the area. 

He says he and his mother were fortunate in that their home sits on a hill. A few streets over, he said, a neighbor's home was leveled to its base. 

As for local and national help, he said that came weeks after the storm had come and gone. 

"The first sign of help we got here was on day 23, if I'm not mistaken. We got a crew from the Army," Rodriguez said.

Their help, he said, was a sign of relief, but it was short lived.

It was the community, Rodriguez said, that really pulled the island together both structurally and emotionally. 

A year later, businesses are back open and tourists are filling them, but they're still without. 

"There are no telephone wires anymore," Rodriguez said. "The phone companies decided it was too expensive to install phone lines now, so what they do is you're given a cellphone or something like that."

Trying to call someone on a landline is impossible. 

One thing Maria did bring with her was transparency. 

"I think that Maria just brought out the truth in everybody," Rodriguez said.