La Ruta De María: A journey along the path of the hurricane

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This is an eye-opener; “La Ruta De María: A journey along the path of the hurricane” by John D. Sutter (CNN; with data analysis by Sergio Hernandez and video by McKenna Ewen and John D. Sutter) shows how tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have applied for temporary roofs but still have not received them three months after Hurricane Maria:

Each morning before work, Héctor Luis Rodríguez Nieves showers with a garden hose behind his tattered home. He uses the jungle as his restroom. He sleeps on a mattress in what once was the kitchen. Above the bed, clothes hang from the rafters — like Spanish moss from trees. The floor in his old bedroom turned to cardboard and sags like a trampoline. A hole opened up. Few places in the house stay dry. That’s because, three months after Hurricane Maria, he still doesn’t have a functional roof.

Others might have given up, or moved away, but Rodríguez, a 35-year-old with boyish freckles and a ruler-straight hairline, lived in this house as a child. After his father passed away a few years ago, he says, he moved back in. This is home; he doesn’t want to leave. So he’s saving up paychecks from his part-time hardware store job to buy cinder blocks to rebuild. A couple dozen or so are piled in the yard. And he tried to install a tarp on his own. It doesn’t do much.

What’s brought me to Rodríguez’s house in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, on December 16, is none of this. It’s a yellow piece of paper nailed to the wall, near the front door.

The Right of Entry Form indicates Rodríguez has applied for a professionally installed tarp — or Blue Roof — from the US Army Corps of Engineers. These free roofs, which are meant to last 30 days, may not sound like much. They can be everything in post-hurricane Puerto Rico if you’re dealing with sun and rain inside your house. Operation Blue Roof is not the only housing program for Maria’s victims, but it is one of the main ways a person like Rodríguez can protect his belongings and try to return to some semblance of normalcy. To qualify, a home must have less than 50% structural damage. Homes with metal or flat roofs, and those made out of concrete, generally are ineligible for the program because of the difficulties of installing tarps on those structures, according to the Army Corps.

Rodríguez’s house was approved for a Blue Roof, according to a government database CNN obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. He said he applied on October 25.

Yet, when I visit, he’s still waiting. That’s true for tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans, the records show.

When I ask Rodríguez about the yellow paper on the wall — the prospect of a tarp — he brushes off delays, citing the crazy magnitude of Maria. Others have it worse, he says. Then I show him a photo that, for him, changes everything.

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I took this image on December 13 in Carolina, about 20 miles north of where Rodríguez lives. The photo shows a warehouse filled with about 20,000 tarp rolls — each representing at least one house, like his, without a roof. There’s another warehouse like this in Ponce, to the south. That one holds 40,000 tarps, according to Mike Feldmann, temporary roofing mission manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, who gave me a tour of the Carolina warehouse.

More than 70,000 people like Rodríguez requested Blue Roofs between the day Hurricane Maria hit and December 18, according to a CNN analysis of Army Corps data.

Yet only about one third — less than 25,000 — had received them by that date, the analysis shows.

The Army Corps’ own guidelines say homeowners “should expect work within 14 days of the request.” However, following inquiries from CNN, agency officials acknowledge the database used to track the work does not show how long residents have been waiting for tarps.

The Army Corps could look at paper records to determine how long applicants have been put on hold, an agency spokesperson says. But the agency declined to say whether such an assessment has been done. Blue Roof installations, according to the spokesperson, are prioritized by location and other factors, not by the date a person applied for a tarp. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/12/us/sutter-maria-route-puerto-rico-invs/index.html

[Photos above by John D. Sutter.]

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