Ghost town in Villa Calma, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Villa Calma, a town in Puerto Rico, is currently a ghost town. (WPEC)

A ghost town.

That is how our CBS12 Investigates crew describes what they saw, town after town, in Puerto Rico.

With nearly 300,000 Puerto Ricans now living on the mainland, dozens of neighborhoods on the island are unoccupied.

The island of Puerto Rico still has its clear water beaches, bright colonial buildings and stunning sunsets.

In San Juan, life is back to normal, but take a drive just 20 miles west and life is anything but normal.

CBS12 drove through one neighborhood that's now practically abandoned. Only a few people stayed behind hoping to see their town up and running once again.

"This community is called Villa Calma. This community was completely flooded,” said Lisandra Baez Tirado.

Tirado runs a group called Puerto Rico One by One. The group assists families that lost almost everything after Hurricane Maria hit.

"There is so much to do. This is one of the houses that was cleaned this week. But the problem here is the debris," Tirado said.

She was referring to the home where Maritza Rodriguez Mendes lives with her husband and granddaughter - one of the few occupied homes in the neighborhood. Tirado has been assisting the family in rebuilding their home.

What happened on Sept. 20 is still vivid in Mendes mind. She said it was the day she almost died.

"Maritza was here during the hurricane - she almost drowned,” Tirado said.

A river overflowed 13 feet and rushed into their home. Mendes and her husband felt hopeless as they held each other on the second floor of their home. The roof had already blown away.

“My husband and I had already said our goodbyes, when at that moment a boat arrived,” Mendes said.

After staying in a shelter for three weeks, the family lived in a tent inside the home. Now, they have a blue tarp where their roof used to be.

"It has gotten so much water that the wood is completely damaged," Tirado said.

With the home falling apart, the family has improvised using a curtain to replace the front door and propping up a box spring against the wall to cover a large hole in the bedroom.

Life just isn't the same, especially without her neighbors.

“I am here alone. There is no one here,” Mendes said.

Instead, there's rubble in yards, broken down cars and homes spray-painted with the haunting word: Maria.

But what's keeping Mendes optimistic about the future is people like Tirado - fighting to transform this ghost town.

"I think we have always been strong people and we just need to recognize it. We have the power in our hands to make the island shine,” Tirado said.

Hurricane Maria destroyed more than 70,000 homes and damaged another 300,000 in Puerto Rico.

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