Caonillas, Puerto Rico
On Saturday, we traveled into the small Puerto Rican town of Caonillas. A community surrounding Lake Caonillas, the town was highly damaged when Hurricane Maria came through the island. The road leading to the barrio were blocked off for nearly 4 weeks after the disaster first came through. Once the Puerto Rican National Guard and volunteers were able to clear the road of debris, emergency help was able to get into Caonillas, and begin providing aid.
5 weeks since the hurricane, and located in the center of the island, the barrio continues to feel the aftershock of the storm. The one way road leading into Caonillas is still suffering landslides, the road continues to crumble down the mountains, and every time it rains, mud from the mudslides push earth and debris back into the road. The road into the barrio continues to be shut down every few days until the National Guard can arrive to try and fix the situation the best they can. There are 2 locations on the trip where the road had completely collapsed down into the valleys, and we had to travel through people's yards to reach the other end of the road to continue.
We traveled to the end of the road to a small community of families located in a small clearing between a smaller hill, and the 2 largest mountain top on the island. The housing locations were prime safety from mudslides, but put the families with no protection from the winds of the hurricane. At least one of the structures located on the land had vanished in the night. The wind took away the the building in such force that the families couldn't even locate one piece.
When we arrived, the families were more than welcoming. Tony, the volunteer I had traveled up there with had made many supply drops to the families over the last couple weeks, and had built quite a relationship with them. A new structure had been put in place, complete with a black and white, hand painted Puerto Rican flag. This structure was were the families would cook their meals, and keep a gas generator to power the strongest structure in the compound. They had just killed a pig a few hours before, and we're cooking it in the structure when we arrived. They were more than insistent we eat with them, and we obliged. You never turn down a home cooked meal.
I spoke to the children about the hurricane, and whether or not they were scared. The oldest daughter told me that the parents tried to make all the children sleep through the storm. The second oldest, a boy told me that was nearly impossible for him, and he was very scared. I spent some time with the kids, taking photos of them, and showing them how my camera worked. They were all so excited to see cool pictures of themselves. I was excited to be able to make them have fun
Although many of these communities are still struggling with the after effects of hurricane Maria, the resilience of these families are still strong. They still smile, and laugh, the children play, and the parents still cook. Even through the hard times, these families remind me how important it is to stick together through the hardest days.