Elderly struggle to survive in wake of Maria

By Oxfam
Pedro López Torres lives in the central highlands of Puerto Rico. His house was destroyed by the storm, and he is now struggling to get the food, water, and dialysis treatments he needs to survive. Photo: Ruben Salgado Escudero

Hurricane Maria destroyed their homes and cut off their electricity – as the crisis wears on, elderly people in Puerto Rico face increasing risks and dangers.

Pedro López Torres is living in a high school classroom in Adjuntas, a small municipality in the central highlands of Puerto Rico, since his home was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. About 80 families who lost their homes are also seeking shelter at the school. Now in his 70's, and a dialysis patient for 15 years, López Torres has been fortunate to find transportation to and from a hospital for treatment in the weeks since the storm on September 20. 

Elderly people like Lopez are among the most vulnerable in Puerto Rico. Many elderly living independently do not have electricity, cannot cook food, and are staying in damaged homes. Older folks in remote areas (many of whom have younger family members working in the US) may have trouble traveling to stores to find food and water, or to hospitals if they are injured.

Government agencies and the Red Cross are trying to provide elders living in their own homes with tarps to temporarily cover damaged roofs, as well as food, water, and medication where possible. However, this assistance has been slow to reach the more remote parts of the island like Adjuntos, a municipality of 19,000 people in the west-central part of the island. 

Oxfam is helping the Foundation for Puerto Rico provide assistance like food and water to 2,250 seniors in 17 municipalities in the eastern, southern, and central areas of the island. The Foundation will use a $44,000 grant from Oxfam to buy goods such as batteries, medicine, food, and even diapers. The aid will help elderly people living independently, in nursing homes, and with families, and should last about a month.

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