Puerto Rico

Fixing A Forest For Puerto Rico's Recovery

Feb 27, 2018
Bert Johnson / GPB

Luigi Ramirez lets a yellow rope slip through his hands slowly at first. When his fingers open, 200 hundred pounds of concrete sail through the lush tropical canopy. Before Hurricane Maria, he sent tourists whizzing across ravines like this one in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest. But that business closed.

“Because that company depends on the trees, and all the trees are damaged in the majority of the forest,” Ramirez says.

Now, he’s running a zip line to deliver construction materials.

This week, we learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency canceled the contract of an Atlanta-based company operating in Puerto Rico.

The reason? That Atlanta company was really just one woman.

She promised to deliver 30 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico... but only delivered 50,000.

GPB’s Emily Cureton reports from Río Grande, Puerto Rico.

RICKEY BEVINGTON: Emily, tell us about this Atlanta based enterprise called Tribute Contracting.

Outside Puerto Rico's capital, a three-story-high mountain of debris and waste sits smack in the middle of what was a suburban soccer field before Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Blue bleachers peek out from the edge of the trash pile, as a line of trucks rolls in to dump even more tree branches and moldy furniture. Workmen wearing yellow hard hats operate diggers to add the new waste to the growing pile in the center of the field.

The Puerto Rican effort to advance from response to recovery after Hurricane Maria continues. For some, water and electricity are still elusive. And that makes it hard to get back to normal — especially for children.

An after-school program is designed to pick up when school lets out. The program – which has no formal name – is organized by volunteers and the nonprofit Save the Children. In a territory still lacking basic utilities in some places, Facebook access and YouTube videos are a lower priority. But kids need something to do.

In Caguas, south of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jared Haley is fighting a daily battle at C-Axis, the medical device manufacturer where he's the general manager. The power has been out at his plant for nearly three months, since Hurricane Irma.

Operating on emergency generators, the plant restarted operations last month and, Haley says, is delivering all its work on schedule. But he's not happy now with the plant's condition. Walking into his factory, he laments, "This shop used to look like a doctor's office."

It's 5:30 a.m. and dark in the fifth-floor hotel room, just a few minutes' drive from the Orlando airport. There are still 20 minutes before the entire family needs to be downstairs to enjoy the free breakfast in the hotel lobby, then they'll be driving the 15 minutes north to school — first period starts at the "very early" time of 7:20.

This has been the daily routine for nearly two months since Yerianne Roldán, 17, and her sister Darianne, 16, arrived in Orlando from western Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


At the end of a dark pitted street in the center of San Juan, the light from the flat screen beckons. Locals flock toward it like a lighthouse, following the siren song of a rattling diesel generator. Six weeks into the nationwide blackout after Hurricane Maria, the final game of the World Series is playing at a popular dive bar called Esquina Watusi.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Updated at 2:10 a.m. ET

A retired senior military officer has been appointed to oversee the rebuilding of Puerto Rico's devastated power grid in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as some three-quarters of the island's residents remain without electricity.

In a written statement on Wednesday, the federal board that oversees Puerto Rico's troubled finances announced its "intent to appoint" retired Air Force Colonel Noel Zamot "as chief transformation officer" of PREPA, the island's power utility.