Thousands Of Puerto Ricans Have Left But This 90-Year-Old Is Staying Put Alejandro La Luz Rivera misses his patio, his wife and his old life in Puerto Rico. He went to the mainland briefly, but says he won't leave his home.

Thousands Of Puerto Ricans Have Left But This 90-Year-Old Is Staying Put

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Thousands of Puerto Ricans left their island after Hurricane Maria, but some of those Americans have found themselves going back. Jeff Cohen of member station WNPR has this story of one man who couldn't stay away.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: Alejandro La Luz Rivera pulls the keys from his pocket, unlocks the heavy gate and walks slowly up the outdoor stairs leading to what used to be a rooftop patio. Before Maria, this was the 90-year-old's favorite place to be. Now, without electricity, it's not as quiet up here. He doesn't have a generator, but his neighbors do. And the patio - gone, destroyed by the hurricane and its winds.

ALEJANDRO LA LUZ RIVERA: And I miss it a lot because it was the area in which I spent a lot of time.

COHEN: La Luz walks us through the home he made with his wife Cecilia. They met decades ago selling newspapers, and they made a life together - first in Puerto Rico, then for 10 years on the mainland, and finally - for good - here in Bayamon - nearly 60 years together, until she died in 2009. Now he lives alone. He apologizes a few times for the lack of furniture after Maria. The refrigerator is open, empty and off because he doesn't have electricity. He watched the storm from his bedroom, his louvered windows tilted open so he could see Maria wrecking his patio.

LA LUZ: The very first moment, it was frightening. But after a couple of hours, I felt so sure that the house was, you know, very strong. And going through it, I felt I'm going to survive. I'm going to make it through it. I did it. I did it.

COHEN: But his family was worried about him being alone. So a couple of weeks after the storm, he left the island to stay with one of his sons in Pennsylvania, far away from the home that he and his wife built together. But it wouldn't last. After a short visit, even though he was with family and was comfortable and safe, La Luz decided to head back home. One of his neighbors, Ana Maria Rivera, says she wasn't surprised to see him.

ANA MARIA RIVERA: I was expecting that.

LA LUZ: (Laughter).


LA LUZ: I appreciate that.

RIVERA: Because that's the way he is. You know, everybody told him, why don't you stay there with your son? And - you're going to be better. No, I want to be here. OK. That's the way he is. At 90 years old, he's not going to change.

COHEN: La Luz has neighbors and family members who look out for him. He gets breakfast at the cafe down the street. Once a week, he drives about an hour away to put flowers on his wife Cecilia's grave.

LA LUZ: When I'm here, then I'm not alone.

COHEN: His wife, he says, is with him. And he misses her a lot.

LA LUZ: And Cecilia was my life. Cecilia was my life, and I couldn't be away from her. She's still here with me. I feel her presence everywhere I go around the house.

COHEN: La Luz says he's not sure if he'll rebuild the outdoor sitting area he lost. But if he does, he says he'll most likely pay for it himself. The thought of asking FEMA for help turns him off.

LA LUZ: I do still have two arms and two legs and my right head. You can still move around, do some work and do things for yourself, where you don't have to go begging to anybody.

COHEN: When we left him, La Luz was in his minivan, headed to the mechanic. Someone had just stolen one of his two headlights, and it was time to get it fixed.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen.

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