Memories of Hurricane Maria remain at 1-year mark

Ceremony held to remember lives lost at Castillo San Cristóba in San Juan

By Vanessa Araiza - Reporter

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Some people who live in Puerto Rico can't believe it's been a year since Hurricane Maria made her mark.

A ceremony was held Thursday to remember the lives lost at Castillo San Cristóba in San Juan.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello was joined by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson at Castillo de San Marcos in San Juan. People wore white to remember the lives lost as a result of Maria.

Luis Figueroa's father-in-law, Carlos Rodriguez, died after Maria. The 83-year-old had cancer before the storm and, Figueroa said, after the storm, his condition deteriorated.

"He went from not good to worse in just a few days," Figueroa said.

The family had moved him from hospice to Figueroa's mother's house. They were fortunate to have a generator, but they ran it sparingly.

"It was hard to get oxygen. It was hot," Figeroa said.

Three weeks after Maria made landfall, his father-in-law died at the home. Funeral arrangements had been made before his death but, after Maria, the family said, the funeral home was at capacity and couldn't accept any more people.

"He stayed the whole night until next morning, like 10:30 or 11 (a.m.), when they came to pick him up," Figueroa said. "They told us, if we had a power generator or something, a room with air conditioning, to bring it to the lowest temperature possible and to keep him not warm."

Rodriguez's body was taken to Ehret Funeral Home in San Juan.

Funeral director Robert Molina said the funeral home had to turn away 12 to 15 families following Maria because of lack of space.

"To have a family walk in and say, 'Well, my dad passed,' and you had to turn them down and say, 'Sorry, you have to find another door where you can knock,' because we could not keep on getting bodies here," Molina said.

Ehret is one of the larger funeral homes on the island. Generally, six bodies can be held in the cooler.

Staff made accommodations after Maria. At one point, they housed two bodies on the same shelf. Still, they had to use portable morgues in order to help more families.

"There were, like 29 (calls) in nine days. Our average services in a month are about 68 and 70 calls. Monthly, that's our average. In October, we had 112," Molina said.

Families, including Figueroa's family, had to have a quick burial or cremation due to the lack of space. To this day, Figueroa said, it's hard to enter the room in the home where they kept his father-in-law's body.

"That room became a room that we don't really use anymore," Figueroa said.

A year later, he chooses to remember the last moments the family was together -- the one thing Maria can never strip away.

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