'We Don't Feel Safe Here': Building A Post-Hurricane Life In Puerto Rico Hurricane season is ending but rebuilding in Puerto Rico is just starting and will take years. Residents of Cataño describe the impact Hurricane Maria had on their once peaceful and safe neighborhood.
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'We Don't Feel Safe Here': Building A Post-Hurricane Life In Puerto Rico

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'We Don't Feel Safe Here': Building A Post-Hurricane Life In Puerto Rico

'We Don't Feel Safe Here': Building A Post-Hurricane Life In Puerto Rico

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today is the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season. It will be remembered as the first hurricane season when three storms hit the U.S. as Category 4s and caused more than $200 billion in damage. In Puerto Rico, many people still do not have power. NPR's Greg Allen checks back in with one of them.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: We first met Irma Rivera just days after Hurricane Maria forced her out of her home in Catano several miles west of San Juan. She's a city council person who's living in a shelter with 200 other people. When we spoke in September, she was angry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

IRMA RIVERA AVILES: (Through interpreter) The governor needs to come here and take a look at our critical situation. The bathrooms are flooded and aren't working. We desperately need water, power and ice.

ALLEN: Since then, things have improved for Rivera and her husband, Ivan. They're out of the shelter now and living at her sister's home. Rivera is back at work in the loans department of the Puerto Rico Teacher's Retirement System. For several hours each day, she says, it helps take her mind off her problems at home. But life at home is still a struggle. There's no power at her home or anywhere in her neighborhood. With no power, a major concern each day is finding ice. She needs it to keep insulin, needed for her husband's diabetes, chilled. Rivera stands in front of her now uninhabitable home.

RIVERA: (Through interpreter) This was our house. That's a guanabana tree in the corner. My mom planted it, and it makes me very sad to look at it now.

ALLEN: Her guanabana tree is brown and bare. Debris litters her yard. A few iguanas roam. As we step in, there's a strong moldy smell. Rivera's home is dark. The storm blew off part of the roof, and everything got wet. It's a small house filled with boxes.

RIVERA: (Through interpreter) We have some boxes here. I haven't had the strength to open them yet. I start crying every time I see the pictures that are all wet.

ALLEN: During the hurricane, five feet of water surged through their neighborhood, a section in Caetano called El Pueblito. It's a tight-knit working-class community. Rivera and her husband had evacuated by then. They came back home after spending more than a week in a shelter. Walking into her bedroom, Rivera steps around piles of mildewed clothing. They'll all be thrown out. She removes a tarp from her dresser. Family pictures, jewelry and treasured mementos crowd the top. She's been putting off dealing with all this.

RIVERA: Photos.

ALLEN: Rivera and her husband have had a hard time getting their home repaired. They're still waiting for money from FEMA. When they tried to buy zinc roofing recently, they were told none was available. It's still at the port. Meanwhile, their home continues to leak whenever it rains. One box that's very special to her remains dry.

RIVERA: (Through interpreter) These are all my Christmas decorations. They survived. They were all stored.

ALLEN: Looking at her Christmas ornaments brings back memories of happier times. Since the storm, crime has become a problem in Caetano because the power is out. Her neighborhood goes dark at 7 p.m. A neighboring family had their generator stolen. Rivera says she and her husband haven't bought a generator out of fear that it would make them a target.

RIVERA: (Through interpreter) We don't feel safe here. We didn't lock our doors before and now locked gates aren't enough to make me feel safe.

ALLEN: Rivera says once night falls, coquis, the tiny tree frogs, start singing and people go inside. She's grateful for what she calls the nightly concert. They help keep her grounded.

RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: Rivera rattles off the names of friends who, fed up with the daily struggle and crime, have left for the U.S. mainland. She's retiring next year, and when she does, she says, she may join them. Greg Allen, NPR News, Catano, Puerto Rico.

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