On a storm-hit hillside, Puerto Ricans begin to fight back
When I first met Diana Aponte, she had just lived through Hurricane Maria. She'd spent part of the storm huddled on the floor with her husband, afraid they would be killed and their hilltop home destroyed.Posted — Updated
But when the terrifyingly strong winds eased, her fears did not. Her husband of 50 years, Miguel Olivera, who had survived combat against the Viet Cong, was down to his last vial of insulin. With no power, she had no way of keeping it cold.
And yet that day, as she talked to me of her troubles, she showed great grace and hospitality as she made me a perfect café con leche.
Three weeks later, I returned to her community of Aguas Buenas, about an hour from San Juan, not knowing what had become of her and her family.
My concerns were dispelled within seconds of reaching the house by Diana's joyous smile and big, warm hug.
"He's good. We're good," she says of her husband, resting inside. Our report had caught the attention of Veterans Administration officials. Word went out and life-saving supplies were brought up to Miguel from San Juan.
"The nurse came and attended to him," Diana says. "They brought him everything the next day."
Now they have insulin and groceries too, but life is not back to what it was.
"We have food because we bought a lot of it," Diana tells me. "The problem is you can't buy a lot because it spoils. We can't have the generator on all the time."
Like so much of Puerto Rico, Diana's house has been without power since the storm and she does not know when it will come back.
A huge power tower had been toppled across the road next to Diana and Miguel's house.
It looked like it would take a helicopter to get it upright again, and who knows how long to string working power lines back up.
But outside Diana's house, a surprising but most definite sign of progress -- the transmission tower is standing again.
Local linesmen from the Authority of Electric Energy resurrected the tower on Sunday, before torrential rains halted repair work.
The workmen circle up and remove their hard hats, asking God to keeping them safe and strong, thanking heaven for allowing them to do this vital work for their fellow islanders. Atop the tower, a new Puerto Rican flag flutters in the breeze.
And just that has given new energy to Diana, the wife of a veteran, who says she'll take her turn in this battle now.
"I'm going to keep fighting," she says, "I'm going to stay in Puerto Rico. I'm not going to leave."
On this mountainside, even with so much pain and deprivation all around, Diana Aponte and the crews restoring power are one example of Puerto Rico rising.
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