Adjuntas, like most towns in the central mountain range of Puerto Rico was particularly devastated by Hurricane Maria. When we arrived, nearly three months later, the entire town was still without power.
When Annie returned home after the storm she found her roof gone, her son fixed it, but the spring water connected to her house was still unsafe for drinking and buying bottled water gets expensive.
More expensive than water is the lack of power.
Casa Pueblo, a globally recognized conservation non-profit in Adjuntas, has stepped in after Maria to provide all kinds of basic necessities to locals in theirs and other towns across the island.
“Here, we give what we have," said Tinti Deya Diaz, co-founder of Casa Pueblo. "Regardless of party, religion, social class. Anyone who comes in and needs anything we have, we give it to them. We don’t look at any of that.”
Their ambition goes beyond immediate aid or recovery. For 38 years Casa Pueblo has fought and won massive environmental battles, and Maria has presented a big opportunity
"We know is that we are very Vulnerable with centralized power generation," explained Arturo Massol, associate director of Casa Pueblo. "So we might get the urban areas might get power in weeks to come. I don't know. Maybe before the end of the year but we know that most of the people live in the rural areas of Adjuntas. And, you say geographically it is a big municipality and they are not going to get power at all in months to come. And some communities the power authority have stated already that at least 200 communities in Puerto Rico. And some of them are in Adjuntas. Will never get power again ever, because it's not economically feasible. To restore the distribution system to places to isolated places."
Why was it so vulnerable?
"We are an island," said Massol. "Our electric system, It's not interconnected with other electric systems as they do in the states. As an island has to import fossil fuels mostly oil to operate our energy system."
"Of course we are addicted to fossil fuel. And we need to give power back to people in more ways than one. And I'm seeking just strictly electrical power," said San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz. "But we also have to ensure that we don't shoot ourselves in the foot and that we set the foundation for the transformation with specific goals of micro grids for communities of solar grids for communities."
The whole island is talking solar, including several sites sponsored by Tesla, projects planned by The Clinton foundation. Diaspora efforts like Resilient Power Puerto Rico and even DIY initiatives launched in someone’s garage.
"For decades the conversation around energy has been hot and sticky," said Cruz. "Now with the public power authority deeply in debt and it’s entire infrastructure completely destroyed, the debate over privatization has everyone all the way from congress to the deep country talking"
The town of Adjuntas has just under 20,000 residents, but in El Hoyo, they’ve heard that if they ever get power restored, it could take a whole year.
We were just walking up the hill from Annie’s house, when we met Jonathan and his mom, without power all they do is visit neighbors and family members next door
Jonathan was months away from finishing his masters degree in Child psychology, but since Maria he had to take a leave of absence. Now he’s worried it’ll set him back.
"I worry because it will set me back. It affects me, it will delay me."
Up the road, for María and her husband, the lack of power could be the difference between life and death.
Maria is on dialysis, but without power her machine doesn’t work, so her husband is performing the process manually.
"There is a stand. It has a timer, of sorts. I place a bag and it descends through gravity," explains Maria's husband. "I retrieve it through this device that she has. I remove it using gravity. I break a small hole on the bag, I set the timer and then it flows manually through the stomach."
He also has to do it when it’s dark. To light the way he was initially using a signal light he ripped from his truck with a car battery but that failed. Now he’s using a solar bulb Casa Pueblo gave him. But manual dialysis is still dangerous.
"The manual process does not extract enough water, toxins from my body," said Maria. "So, they remain in my body and that has affected me. It has been uphill because I feel more tired, weak. I can have renal failure. I’ve also undergone open-heart surgery."
Maria is scared.
They didn’t know it yet, but both Jonathan’s family, and Maria's are among a few households in the town that Casa Pueblo will fit with solar, water filtration and a small refrigeration to tend to their most basic needs.
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