Ada Santiago lost her home when Hurricane Maria slammed into her hilly community of Cubones, Puerto Rico, last fall. Like thousands, she is struggling to rebuild her life.
When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, Ada Santiago’s wooden house—perched on a steep hill in Cubones—didn’t stand a chance. Worried about what might happen as the winds picked up, Sanitago and her husband took shelter in her mother’s house across the street—a fortuitous decision.
“The floor went down the mountainside,” said Santiago, recalling the tumult that swept away her home and its two bedrooms, kitchen-dining room, and living room. All that remained was part of a bathroom wall with a toilet and a sink.
Two months later, we met Santiago at a water filter distribution Oxfam organized with its two local partners, The Foundation for Puerto Rico and the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Health. At the time, an estimated 20 percent of Puerto Ricans were without water.
Santiago received the filter just as she was running low on bottled water provided by the municipality and the military. She said she longed more than anything for running water so she could hose things down and clean up a bit. To flush the toilet in her mother’s house, she keeps her car loaded with empty gallon jugs that she fills at a spring and lugs home.
In many communities, especially in the central highlands, it would be months before the water came back.
That lack of water made everyday activities extremely difficult for households in Puerto Rico, particularly for women, who bear the brunt of household work. “Simple chores—like cooking, laundry, and cleaning—became monumental tasks. It’s difficult to fully comprehend the toll the lack of water took on the women across the island—physically and emotionally,” said María Concepción, Oxfam’s program director in Puerto Rico.
Countless households remain battered. There is still a long way to go before Puerto Rico is back on its feet.
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