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As a new year dawns, Puerto Rico is getting back on its feet — slowly

Posted at 4:30 AM, Jan 09, 2018

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Over 200,000 people fled Puerto Rico between Hurricane Irma's landfall in September 2017 and the start of the new year, and more are preparing to leave in 2018. 

"Where I live, there's still no power," Katrina Peguero said. "I've had no power since Irma, so I'm leaving for the Dominican Republic."

Although the global news cycle moved on after an initial burst of fall coverage, the world dutifully producing fresher, shinier tragedies, conditions throughout much of the island still verged on the post-apocalyptic by Monday. Shops and restaurants remained closed; fallen trees and slumping power lines criss-crossed debris-strewn streets; and automobile traffic became an exercise in courtesy in the absence of working traffic lights. 

Around 43 percent of Puerto Ricans still had no power.

Restaurant owner Marilyn Competiello heard the warnings and storm-proofed her business as Irma approached Hatillo, but she never expected the devastation it delivered. 

She began to realize the true scope of the damage when she looked at the deck of her restaurant and saw the chairs floating.

"When we opened the front door, the water just rushed out (and) almost knocked us over," she said. "I cried. I even hate thinking about it."

People broke into the restaurant three times in the immediate aftermath, stealing all they could find, and Competiello shuttered it in response. 

Pero, Puerto Rico se levanta.

The island gets back on its feet.

Competiello reopened her doors in the new year, and organizations such as Rescatando Una Sonrisa -- Restore a Smile -- worked through the holidays to ensure children who had endured the storm could at least receive presents for Christmas.

And aid organizations are still collecting donations for the island, even if its challenges might have slipped out of international headlines.

Joito Perez, who represents Arecibo in the Puerto Rican Senate, said he believes in the enduring spirit of the people around him. A recovery is possible, and it's happening -- just more slowly than most would prefer.

"We're doing what we have to do to push forward like Puerto Ricans," he said.

Anyone wishing to donate to Puerto Rican recovery efforts can do so via PRxPRUnited for Puerto Rico, the Hispanic FederationUNICEF, or Arecibo Se Levanta.