“Maria! Maria! Nos Destruyó Maria!”

See also on CounterPunch

Maria! Maria! nos destruyó Maria! (Maria! Maria! it was Maria that destroyed us!) — Socoro Rolon, Sierra Brava, Salinas, Puerto Rico, February 5.

This is a three-part photo essay accompanying an article by Stan and Paul Cox, titled ‘Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria.’

Superpower Neglect: A Theater of Injustice (part 2)

Socorro is right. Maria did devastate Puerto Rico. But it was the U.S. government that spent more than a century rendering Puerto Rico vulnerable to such a disaster and then failed to mount an adequate recovery effort.

The detritus of superpower neglect is something to behold. But no matter how much we residents of the mainland are trying to ignore it, the stillness of that detritus is screaming at us…


IMG_5046…through the once-driven cars and lived-in houses that line Sierra Brava’s empty streets…


IMG_5051…and the brightly colored, destroyed hopes, and the half constructed grey hopes that lie side by side, waiting, waiting for FEMA…


IMG_4970…the teachers who lost jobs when nine area schools closed down, and the overwhelming desire of some of their students not to stay in Puerto Rico… (mural detail, Parque AA De Salinas, Puerto Rico)


IMG_5161…through an open door of one of these schools where a homeless person or family and their belongings appear to be taking shelter…


IMG_4971…the kids who saw all that rain start falling on September 20 and wanted to go out and play in it, not knowing what horrors would follow. One day… two days… one week… two weeks… one month… four months with no power, no water, and the sinking realization in their little hearts that something terrible has happened. And today, every time the power goes out they get hurricane flashbacks, and no school psychologists to talk with… (mural detail, Parque AA De Salinas, Puerto Rico)


IMG_5221…through a small used-to-be clinic in La Plena, where one doctor used to show up once a week, and which now looks like a clinic out of a Dr. Seuss book with cactuses growing on the roof, and comején (termites) on the outside wall eating up whatever is left of the little structure. Not a Seuss any child would like to read…


IMG_4972…through the words of 30-year-old Madeline, a mother of 2, and our short-term neighbor, guide & translator, who grew up in the neighborhood of Sierra Brava and knows everybody there: “The men go to work in the United States, but the women stay here with the kids. You see? The family suffered and we don’t know how [all] this is going to come up again. We’re trying but… Mommy stays with the kids, but where’s Dad? Oh, Daddy needs to go out, to the United States to work. And we got a lot of family here like that. It’s only Mom in the house. Daddy needs to work, Mama don’t find nothing here and… the parents separate… (mural detail, Parque AA De Salinas, Puerto Rico)


IMG_4939…and a mural chronicling Puerto Rico’s salseros, on the wall of the abandoned Teatro Coqui that includes an inscription in which a deity of the Santeria religion declares, “I, Elegua, order it: take out the drums!!… (mural painted by Salinas artist Osvaldo Dowell Colón)


IMG_5039 copy…on the blue plastic tarps draping roofless houses in incomprehensible capacities…


IMG_5089…through the larger-than-life figure of Orlando Guzman Vasqez who turned 74 last month, and the knee that he broke when he fell from his roof while trying to fix it (when he got tired of waiting for help with restoration): “I born over here. This is my grandfather’s house. I have the papers for the house. My father is still alive. He’s 98 years old. He lives in Connecticut… I worked in the United States for 40 years, in New York City, in construction… I lost everything in the house. The furniture, television, everything. They don’t pay me nothing for nothing inside.” But, he says, having a roof over his head is better than nothing. “I gonna try to finish this with the money I collect, It’s not enough money.” Asked if he might get fed up and go back to New York, he said no, because it’s too expensive to live there. He pointed to his mango tree. “It’s cold over there. Over here when I’m hungry I eat the mango and drink some water, and that’s it…”


IMG_5053…through Socorro’s house that she can’t live in. Socorro tells us that “everything was destroyed by the hurricane and just stayed the same way…”


IMG_5138…She told us, “You can’t live here, look at how it is, we are living up there. Total destruction… Look at the house, it is destroyed… everything got wet and that’s why it was destroyed, we used to sleep there in those old mattresses over there, and everything was wet… nothing could be saved…What can I do? Just keep going until God knows when, what else can I do?… We were helped by FEMA for the rent, but FEMA didn’t help with the interior and the other things. So, we signed up for a plan called Renace (Rebirth.) Renace came four times to check the house, and they said afterwards the house couldn’t be fixed. I have a letter they sent, and it said the house was in bad condition. The house is still like that… We have been paying what we’ve been able to, because FEMA doesn’t help anymore… My husband is sick…


IMG_5143and I have a sickness in my ears, and he had a stroke. I can’t do more than I’m currently doing. What am I supposed to do?… The hurricane, it destroyed, destroyed half the world over here. It took the street, and didn’t spare anyone… My husband and I went to the refuge. We were astonished because we couldn’t take anything with us. When we returned we found total destruction. We went back to the refuge, but since my husband had a stroke, I returned to the house, and we stayed though it was destroyed, we did what we could… I had to sleep on a table. It was a small bed, and everything was wet… So we have that house with a check that FEMA gave us, but they didn’t help anymore afterwards, and what we get from Social Security isn’t much…”

At this point, her neighbor Raul Garay stopped by. Seeing us, he told her, “It’s about time they showed up!” Maybe he thought we were FEMA. He told us in English, “Socorro means ‘Help me!’ That’s the translation… Socorro… HELP!”

As we left, Socorro said, “Maria… Maria it was Maria that destroyed us… Thank you for coming.”


IMG_4928And for that day, the curtain fell on the theatre of superpower injustice. (Teatro Coqui, Guayama, Puerto Rico) 

Please click on links below for part 1 & 3:

Superpower Neglect: Casting Shadows, Still (part 1)

Superpower Neglect: There’s Something About a Soldier (part 3)

3 thoughts on ““Maria! Maria! Nos Destruyó Maria!”

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