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Tourists returning to Puerto Rico helping island recover

Old San Juan, other popular areas ready for visitors

A file photo from July 1, 2015 showing traffic moving through the streets in Old San Juan.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A file photo from July 1, 2015 showing traffic moving through the streets in Old San Juan.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


OLD SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Nine months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico the devastation around the Caribbean island remains though not as visible to the eye.

Fewer trees and power lines are blocking the streets and the cobble streets of Old San Juan are filled, again, with tourists.

Visitors are flying to the island while others arrive by sea. Cruises began departing to and from Puerto Rico about two months after the hurricane.

Officials with the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. a government-run entity for the U.S. territory, said visitors are helping the island recover.

"A great vacation in Puerto Rico for your family, helps thousands of families relying on tourism dollars to feed their families and hold on to what they have left," PRTC said in a statement. "Tourism has helped the economy bounce back from such a devastating disaster."

A June update from the tourism organization said most hotels in popular tourist districts are back open, while some resorts are still closed but will began taking reservations for later this year.

La Bombonera, an eatery in Old San Juan that was established in the 1900s, welcomed tourists and locals with open arms.

Nydia Cotto started working at the restaurant four months after Maria hit the island.

"I work hard because I live in a condominium, and shaking and shaking and we don't have electricity for three months," Cotto said. 

She said she began seeing more tourists in the past two months.

Tammy Hevrdej, of Chicago, was visiting the Caribbean Island with her family. 

"As we were talking to a few taxi drivers, they said inland was a little bit worse, but here it seems fine. Even the streets going back and forth to the airport a couple of times, went and dropped off our luggage, came back shopping just because it was such a cool little town that we wanted to come and visit," Hervdej said.

As the island continues to recover, Old San Juan is getting back to hosting travelers who want to explore the city's history.

"It's much better really. The tourism people are coming. All the businesses are working. It's much better," Cotto said. 

More people may be popping into an eatery or checking out local shops, but that doesn't mean the island is back to where it was pre-Hurricane Maria.

"In the mountains, it's very bad," Cotto said. "It's bad, but about 500,000 people leave (sic) the island with the hurricane and we have a lot of business without too much employment."