Rural mountain town in Puerto Rico among hardest hit by Hurricane Maria
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) —
While parts of Puerto Rico are back to normal after Hurricane Maria , people living outside major cities - especially those living in rural areas - are feeling isolated and hopeless.
The scale of the disaster became clear as the CBS12 Investigates crew made their way through the city of Utuado, located in the central part of the island. A place where desperation is growing and hope is fading.
Christian tunes in Spanish play throughout the mountains of Utuado, where a solar radio gives hurricane survivors a feel of civilization.
“It’s not cookies and cream what happened here,” said Desiree Battistini.
Battistini lived in one of those mountain-perched homes.
She had a beautiful view of a lake called Lago Caonillas from her porch. Now, she can see it from her second floor - along with the sky.
Strong winds from Hurricane Maria ripped off the roof, and landslides sent rocks, water and mud tumbling onto her house. She recounted how the damage happened as we walked through what is left of her home.
"Right here the wall fell and it holds this, the ground and it fell into the lake,” Battistini said.
The damage and devastation is almost incomprehensible.
“My mom worked hard for this for 27 to 28 years, and for it to be gone in 33 hours it’s just hard and difficult,” Battistini said.
It's been one hundred thirty-seven days since Hurricane Maria ripped through, and not much has changed.
"You can be prepared for the hurricane, but for the emotional part and physical part after it, it is not easy," Battistini said.
For example, the search for water is a constant struggle.
"We look for water in the mountains and we carry buckets and bottles and it's every day. It’s physically draining," Battistini said.
With limited communication, she's forced to leave written messages at the entrance of her home when she steps away.
Not too far from Battistini, lives 79-year-old Efraen Pantoja Jimenez.
He showed us where a mudslide broke through the back of his home.
"It's going to get better, but it's going to take a year or two,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez is the only person the CBS12 Investigates crew met in Puerto Rico whose loan was approved by FEMA.
One of the areas most affected in Utuado is Rio Abajo.
The people living in that area of the mountain were disconnected from the city after the connecting bridge collapsed. For a while, their only way across the river in their town was a zip line they made out of cable. They now have to walk a longer route as they wait for a new bridge to be completed.
About 20 bridges in the town of Utuado were wiped out by the storm.
Broken roads and knocked down homes are also still visible around town.
For Battistini, the road to recovery seems out of reach. Only her faith gives her strength - or how they say it in Puerto Rico: fuerza.
“We pray every night everyday so that is what keeps me going," Battistini said.
She estimates to get power back by June or July, and she is still waiting for a loan approval from FEMA.