Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, knocking out the entire electrical grid and leaving more than 60 percent of residents without running water, Yahoo News joined Megan Vazquez, who works in the IT department at Yahoo, as she traveled to the island to visit her family in the aftermath of the storm.

We drove into the mountains and passed families collecting water and bathing in streams along the way. We swerved to avoid downed power lines and uprooted trees that blocked the steep, treacherous roads to Utuado and Ciales, where we visited an elderly couple from whom Megan’s father, Jesse, receives an alternative treatment for his heart condition. Isolated and completely cut off from communication, their house sat in the direct path of a potential mudslide.

We waded through sheets of rain and watched water splash above the tires of the cars in front of us as flash-flood warnings blared over the radio. On the highway near San Juan, we passed a billboard advising people to visit a website where the Puerto Rican government has been posting updates on the progress of the recovery effort, and we wondered how, without electricity, internet or decent cell service, most Puerto Ricans would be able to access this important information.

Back at the Vazquez house, we celebrated the return of running water, only to lament its disappearance 24 hours later. Megan and I stood outside in the rain and rinsed our hair in the water that flowed alongside the curb.

We discussed President Trump and whether the speed and scope of the federal government’s response to Puerto Rico had more to do with the island’s lack of the political clout that comes with statehood than with the current administration.

“I think that if [Trump] didn’t exist it would be the same,” Jesse said of the federal relief effort. “I really do believe that.”

Megan marveled at how many people on the mainland don’t even realize that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, or that its more than 3.4 million residents are American citizens.

“There’s still a divide between Puerto Ricans and the United States, and it’s on the U.S.’s part,” she said.

Photography by Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News

READ MORE: In a devastated Puerto Rican landscape, getting by on tenacity, patience and the kindness of neighbors »

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Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Everista Alicea Gonzalez lives alone in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. Weeks after hurricane Maria, she was still without water, electricity, and communication. She said she had not seen anyone from FEMA, the National Guard or any other relief effort. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

A downed “no trespassing” sign lays on the grass in front of a building damaged by Hurricane Maria in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

People bath and collect water from a stream in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Two women stand on a residential street in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on Oct. 7, 2017. Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck the island, Bayamon residents were still without power or electricity. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

A dilapidated house in the Bayaney barrio of Hatillo, Puerto Rico is without a roof after Hurricane Maria. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Mercedes Mercado surveys the damage from Hurricane Maria to her farm in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

A large metal sign lays flat in the parking lot of an IHOP near the entrance to an outlet mall in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

A collapsed roof at a garage in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Hundreds of people wait in line for hours at the Walmart in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on Sunday Oct. 8, 2017. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

People wait in line for hours at the shopping center in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on Sunday Oct. 8, 2017. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Destroyed homes in the Bayaney barrio of Hatillo, Puerto Rico is without a roof after Hurricane Maria. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Jesse Vazquez picks a tangerine from a tree on the roof of his house in Bayamón, Puerto Rico on Oct. 9, 2017. Nearly three weeks earlier, Hurricane Maria had struck the island, leaving him and his 89-year-old mother, Mercedes, without electricity or running water. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Megan Vazquez photographs the destruction around an abandoned van and hot dog stand near her hometown of Bayamon, Puerto Rico three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Ramona and Santos Lopez Caraballo stand outside their home in Arecibo, P.R. on Oct. 10, 2017. The couple was completely cut off from communication for 15 days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Mercedes Mercado surveys the damage from Hurricane Maria to her farm in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

A young girl and her father rinse off in naturally flowing water from the side of a mountain in Ciales, Puerto Rico on Oct. 11, 2017. (Photo: Caitlin DIckson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Destroyed homes in the Bayaney barrio of Hatillo, Puerto Rico is without a roof after Hurricane Maria. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Oscar Vazquez uses a machete to cut fallen branches from trees knocked over by Hurricane Maria at his family’s farm in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, causing several mudslides in island’s central mountain region, the river in the Rio Arriba barrio of Arecibo is motionless and filled with mud and other debris. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

People bath and collect water from a stream in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Visiting family in Puerto Rico amid devastation

Jesse Vazquez, left, sits with his daughter, Megan, his son, Oscar, and his mother, Mercedes Mercado under the gazebo on their farm in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. Three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, the family traveled to Hatillo from their home in Bayamon to assess the damage to their property. (Photo: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)