What it's like delivering aid to a remote town in Puerto Rico

The town of Barranquitas is so remote, residents said relief efforts hadn’t reached them yet.
October 28, 2017, 9:34am

BARRANQUITAS, Puerto Rico — Past miles of torn-down telephone poles, uprooted trees, and crumpled landslides, the town of Barranquitas hides in the mountains of central Puerto Rico. Many of the sprawling municipality’s 30,000 or so residents said they hadn’t received any aid since Hurricane Maria tore through the Caribbean island over a month ago.

More than a two-hour ride across narrow and rough roads from the metropolitan area of San Juan, Barranquitas still doesn’t have power or access to clean water. Roofs hang off houses, and septic tanks have burst. The roads are impassable, and schools remain closed.

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As part of relief efforts, branches of the U.S. military have been delivering aid to towns in Puerto Rico since September. But Barranquitas is so remote, residents said relief efforts hadn’t reached them until Thursday, although FEMA told VICE News the town has been receiving aid since Sept. 27, including by air when roads have been blocked. A unit from the U.S. Coast Guard, in coordination with the U.S. Army and several federal law enforcement agencies, lead a convoy of aid to two neighborhoods there.

Though President Trump has threatened to pull emergency relief services out of Puerto Rico, the military is the only lifeline for residents of many secluded towns, like Barranquitas.

One family of four, standing in line with an umbrella, hadn’t received aid yet. The children weren’t going to school, and the parents weren’t working. While they said their lives had been destroyed, they guessed they were most likely faring better than others in the town.

The grandmother of two months-old babies in Palo Hincado Barrio, a neighborhood in Barranquitas, said she received a check of $500 from FEMA, but that didn’t even begin to cover the damage of her flooded home. She also needed clean water.

Elsie Peroni, above explained through tears that not only did she no longer have a roof, but thieves had stolen all of her belongings, leaving her with only the clothes on her back. She hasn’t had running water since the hurricane hit and can’t bathe.

While there hasn’t been any violence in Barranquitas, the Coast Guard still stood guard as aid was handed out. Officers said there had been trouble in other areas while distributing supplies.

As the convoy rode away from Barranquitas, many of the servicemen and women talked about the life-changing experience of delivering aid to Puerto Rico. “We’ll tell each other, ‘I’m taking off tomorrow,’ and we’ll all be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,'” said Javier Diaz, a U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service special agent. “And we’ll all show up in the office dressed up.”