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Five years after Hurricane Maria, locals watch again as Puerto Rico left in the dark

Millions of residents still remained without electricity, showing the challenges that Puerto Rico still faces in restoring a power grid that was destroyed almost five years ago to the day.

After Hurricane Fiona swept through Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, much of the town is without power on Tuesday. Hurricane Fiona, a storm with weaker winds than 2017’s Hurricane Maria, managed to leave more than a million people in darkness, trigger mudslides, flood neighborhoods, and paralyze the island.ERIKA P. RODRIGUEZ/NYT

When power returned — after nearly 48 hours — early Tuesday to the rental home Deysi Gutierrez and her friends were staying at as the powerful Hurricane Fiona swept through Puerto Rico, it didn’t last long. By nightfall, when it was time to pack for their return flight to Boston, they were without electricity again.

“It was very scary,” Gutierrez said in an interview. She recounted water leaking through the walls and onto the floor. There were lots of thunderstorms, loud rain and wind.

“We packed everything in the dark with lanterns. And that’s how we left,” Gutierrez said Wednesday after returning home to East Boston after a week’s stay in Luquillo, a seaside destination on the northeastern part of the island.


“I feel really in deep gratitude to have made it home on time and safely,” Gutierrez said.

But days after Hurricane Fiona devastated the island with terrifying flash floods, millions of residents still remained without electricity, showing the challenges that Puerto Rico still faces in restoring a power grid that was essentially destroyed almost five years ago to the day, when Hurricane Maria hit.

Across Massachusetts and the country, residents and community organizations, as well as friends and family members of those on the island have been watching the devastation unfold, frustrated that the power disruptions have continued as they look for ways to offer support.

“I know that Puerto Rico and the people of Puerto Rico are in rescue mode,” said state Senator Adam Gomez, a Democrat from Springfield, who has family in Sabana Grande, in the southwestern region of the island. “As a community, the diaspora is going to be in relief mode. And then from there, after we kind of assess over time, then we’re going to get into rebuilding mode.”

Gomez urged families to connect with relatives on the island, to assess their safety. Early on, he said, it has been difficult to get essential supplies to people who are stranded and the most impacted, because of the damaged infrastructure. He said he was awaiting lists of needed supplies, so that “we can be more strategic on what we tell the community.”


“I know that a lot of our families are struggling and we are praying for them,” he said. “We’re emotionally strong but obviously really traumatized again. "

Gomez said he will participate in an online event designed to raise awareness of the island’s plight and to solicit support. The event, called “Solidarity with Puerto Rico: Hurricane Fiona,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Thursday. It will be livestreamed on Facebook at https://fb.me/e/2EAskRtSa.

The online forum is presented by Power 4 Puerto Rico, a national network of Puerto Rican community organizations.

“What we want to do, having been through this already once, is really bring information directly from community leaders on the ground to the Puerto Rican diaspora and allies,” said Erica González Martinez, the network’s director.

The forum, she said, will be an opportunity to hear from people who work on housing, who are part of community response networks, as well as federal and local government responses.

“We’ll also have analysis from experts around why this grid failed,” González Martinez said. “What keeps happening here that Puerto Ricans are being subjected repeatedly to not only major disasters, but the day to day, week to week, blackouts?”


Other organizations said they were similarly monitoring the devastation and exploring ways to provide help.

All Hands and Hearts, a Mattapoisett-based disaster relief organization, on Thursday plans to send seven volunteers from around the US to San Juan as a disaster-assessment response team.

The organization spent two years in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, helping to rebuild and recover; it still has supplies on the ground, including mucking kits, said Chloe Forman, global response manager. One immediate task will be removing debris and mud from homes, she said.

“We try to identify pockets and locations where needs aren’t necessarily being met,” Forman said. “They’ve been identifying different areas of need that we’re going to try and plug into and get our assessors in there to take a look.”

Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, a non-profit based in the South End, also said it was working closely with partners to determine the needs.

“Our organization stands ready to step into action and aid in the relief of its residents,” said CEO Vanessa Calderón-Rosado. “Our thoughts go out to all of those in Puerto Rico impacted by this storm.

Gutierrez, the East Boston resident, said Wednesday that the havoc of the storm, and experiencing the fragility of the island’s power grid firsthand, made her feel for all the Puerto Ricans who continue to live in darkness.

“It definitely humbled me and it made me reflect,” Gutierrez said. “It’s crazy how unreliable the power is and the water, these are some things that are needed every day.”


One woman who lived through Maria told Gutierrez she lived without lights for close to a year.

“It’s not fair that this is normal for people’s lives here,” Gutierrez said. “That shouldn’t be a norm and that’s real sad.”

Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.