The waves from the Caribbean Sea crash on the shore right beneath the back window of Irma Torres’ concrete-walled home in southeast Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria ripped part of the roof away when it slammed into Yabucoa, Puerto Rico last month.
The house almost looks like it could crumble into the water any second.
Torres, 74, and her husband are too frail to leave their leave their homes for long stretches of time. It’s too difficult for them to stand in long lines for the basic necessities.
They are cut off from medical care, like many others on the island.
Dr. Humberto Guzman, 39, says there are dialysis patients cut off from the routine treatment they desperately need and oxygen-dependent patients who aren’t getting the medical supplies they need in time.
“I was hoping that by this time the medical community in Puerto Rico would be working and be in better shape,” Guzman said. “The poor people, the frail, these people are living on the edge right now.” But conditions have not improved enough and the need for help is still at a crisis level in many small communities across the island, he said.
Guzman leads a team of medical volunteers called “Puerto Rico Stands on its Feet.” They’ve traveled to 32 cities across the island in the last three weeks, and they say there are thousands of people living on the fringe.
Though the official death toll from the storm stands at 45, at least 113 people are still listed as missing, and Guzman fears that the number of dead will increase. “In my opinion, the death toll is really low,” he said.
Today, the team is stopping by Torres’ house to check on the couples’ condition, write prescriptions to get medicines refilled and leave bags of supplies to help them get through the next few weeks.
While Guzman and his team were at work in the seaside town, news circulated that President Donald Trump had tweeted that FEMA and the US military can’t stay in Puerto Rico forever. The communications system in this region of Puerto Rico has been ravaged, and news travels slowly.
Hernan Morales, 52, lives in Yabucoa and says he was disgusted by the President’s words, which he says sounded like a threat that federal relief work would be cut off before the work is done.
“I wish I could talk to that guy,” Morales said of Trump. “That’s not right. He has to be in our shoes. He has to see what’s going on in Puerto Rico.”
Morales, who works as a private security guard, is actually one of the more upbeat storm victims. He has a generator and, through a friend, he’s found a steady supply of clean drinking water. Life is painfully uncomfortable, but he says compared to most people on the island, he’s in good shape.
Outside his home, Morales recalls how Hurricane Maria “sounded like a monster hitting your door” as it came ashore.
“Never heard that sound in my life and I don’t want to hear it again,” said Morales.
Other than the mayor of the town delivering some water, he said, no official help has made it to his neighborhood since the storm.
That’s why private volunteers are filling the void in the relief process.
Guzman’s team is supported by yet another team of private volunteers, called “Wings of Hope.”
Mark Sawyer, who moved to Puerto Rico two years ago, leads the group and has spent the weeks since the storm collecting donations and supplies from people around the mainland United States.
Sawyer says even three weeks after the storm hit, the island is still in the initial phase of recovery.
“Every day is survival mode for most people,” Sawyer said. “It’s a crisis for them.”