I visited Puerto Rico for a week from Dec. 23 until Dec. 30. It was my first time visiting my friends and family since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September. I was happy to be back, but I also felt somewhat guilty not having experienced the destruction left in the storm's wake firsthand.
I could tell people were exhausted from everything they went through. The uphill recovery they were facing didn't help the situation, either.
I went out for drinks with my brother-in-law one night. We ran into a friend of his who worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers making sure the power generators used by FEMA were running smoothly.
This guy has traveled the entire island over the past three months. He told us stories of what he saw and gave his assessment of the situation. He said there are parts of the island that are slowly recovering. However, he would advise people to leave if they lived in one of the smaller towns in the center of the island.
My brother-in-law's friend noted he was skeptical of the government's prediction it would have power fully restored by May, especially in those smaller towns. Given what I know about the situation and what I saw, I can't say I'm surprised by this.
It's been more than three months since the storm hit the island. Only 55 percent of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority customers have power. Many of those customers had to wait months before the power returned. My mom, for example, was without power for three months, with it only coming back in late December.
The blackouts led not only to desperation but also to deaths. An analysis conducted by The New York Times found that deaths in Puerto Rico stemming from the hurricane could total more than 1,000. Also, more than 200,000 residents have now moved to Florida from the island since the hurricane.
The damage done to the island is still visible in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. On my way home from the airport, I saw power lines still down, intersections without working traffic lights and knocked-down road signs. The roads themselves were also in worse shape than prior to the hurricane's arrival. When I visited my brother, I saw a parking spot being taken up by a tree.