YABUCOA, Puerto Rico – Remembrances and religious ceremonies are planned throughout Puerto Rico on Thursday, with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson joining Gov. Ricardo Rossello in San Juan. One year ago today, Category 4 Hurricane Maria ravaged the U.S. Commonwealth, storming ashore with recorded wind gusts of 170 miles an hour.
An estimated 3,000 people lost their lives on the island and much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure crumbled. Most of the island lost electricity for at least three months. Some just had it restored last month.
Rossello told Fox News that Maria caused about $140 billion in damage. And he worries that the next hurricane could break it all apart again.
“We have some stronger infrastructure that has been put in,” the governor said. “But all we’ve done right now is essentially lift up the old system, and in some parts it’s even more vulnerable than it was before Maria."
Across the island, recovery and rebuilding is still happening every day.
Marylinette Martinez’s house lost its roof when the hurricane blew it into her neighborhood. Martinez and her 4- and 5-year-old daughters have been spending the past year crashing at her in-law’s house. Her city, Yabucoa, remains only 50 percent repaired.
The disaster relief organization Samaritan’s Purse is helping her rebuild the roof this month.
“It’s really hard to not have a safe place for the kids,” she said.
Samaritan’s Purse distributed 75,000 blue tarps after Maria hit. Flying around the island on Thursday, you still see numerous homes covered in tarps.
“It’s a year later, and while a lot has been done, we’re still finding people living under plastic,” said Samaritan’s Purse Daniel Stephens. "So, it’s still a struggle.”
His workers are still aiding residents, even installing solar panels to help keep their power working.
At Hector Batista’s house in the mountains, a passing thunderstorm shot a bolt of lightning nearby, knocking out his power. He and his wife went six months without electricity after the hurricane. He said it’s still unreliable.
“Now, every time it rains, the power goes away,” he said.
Damage and debris is still a prominent part of the new landscape. A massive wind-power farm remains standing, with pieces of the huge turbines still on the ground. The power utility still hasn’t gotten to that.
In the northern, coastal town of Barceloneta, Maria ate up the beach, which has resulted in a dozen houses to collapse into the sand. They still sit there, piles of abandoned rubble.
To commemorate the anniversary of the worst and most costly hurricane to ever hit Puerto Rico, the governor and mayors across the island are holding ceremonies on Thursday. Carson will be joining the governor in San Juan.
And all government flags are flying at half-staff.