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Aid lags as suffering continues in Puerto Rico

MONTEBELLO, Puerto Rico — Relatives helped Maribel Valentin Espino find shelter when Hurricane Maria roared through her community in northern Puerto Rico. Neighbors formed volunteer brigades to cut fallen trees and clear twisty mountain roads after the storm had passed. Now, friends and a local cattle ranch provide the water they need to survive in the tropical heat.

Valentin and her husband say they have not seen anyone from the Puerto Rican government, much less the Federal Emergency Management Agency, since the storm tore up the island Sept. 20, killing at least 16 people and leaving nearly all 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico without power and most without water.

"People say FEMA is going to help us," Valentin said Tuesday as she showed Associated Press journalists around the sodden wreckage of her home. "We're waiting."

Many others are also waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government. But the scope of the devastation is so broad, and the relief effort so concentrated in San Juan, that many people from outside the capital say they have received little to no help.

Valentin, her husband and teenage son live in one such area, Montebello, a 20-minute drive into what used to be lushly forested mountains near the northern coastal municipality of Manati. Hurricane Maria's Category 4 winds stripped the trees bare and scattered them like matchsticks. "It seemed like a monster," she recalled.

The roads are passable now but the community is still isolated. "Nobody has visited, not from the government, not from the city, no one," said Antonio Velez, a 64-year-old who has lived there his entire life.

In the central town of Morovis, Manolo Gonzalez built a makeshift raft out of a plastic pallet buoyed by soda bottles to help neighbors ferry food, gasoline and other basic supplies across a river where the bridge was destroyed.

Someone had already strung a cable over the 100-yard stretch of river so people could hold on as they crossed in search of supplies.

"There's no food over there," Gonzalez said. "We have to help each other because that's all we have."

North Carolina: Maria regained strength and became a hurricane again Wednesday, pushing water over both sides of North Carolina's Outer Banks and taking its time to slowly turn away from the U.S. Atlantic coast.

No injuries have been reported, but the surge of ocean water washed over eroded beaches, flooding properties and state Highway 12, the only road through the narrow barrier islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

No ferries were moving, cutting off access to Ocracoke, and with the highway flooded at high tide, any travel on Hatteras remains hazardous, Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson said in an email. He said the worst problems were on Hatteras Island, where more than 10,000 visitors left under an evacuation order, but hundreds of local residents were allowed to stay.

The National Hurricane Center said an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft measured Maria's top sustained winds at near 75 mph, with higher gusts.

Aid lags as suffering continues in Puerto Rico 09/27/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 27, 2017 7:57pm]
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photo courtesy Mikell Herrick