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Puerto Rico's southern coast takes stock of the destruction left by Hurricane Fiona

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Puerto Rico, the last bands of Hurricane Fiona are moving over the island two days after the storm came ashore on the southern coast. Fiona dumped nearly 30 inches of rain on some parts of Puerto Rico, causing massive flooding and landslides. As the rain continues, some communities are still at risk. But in many towns, residents are starting to take stock of the destruction and wondering how long it'll take to recover. NPR's Adrian Florido is on Puerto Rico's southern coast. Hey, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Where are you, and what are you seeing?

FLORIDO: I'm speaking to you from the town of Lajas. It is on the southwestern coast of the island. And it's right around here that Fiona made landfall. And what I'm seeing is a lot of fallen trees and power lines down all over the place, banana and plantain crops destroyed. And, of course, I've seen homes whose roofs were either torn off or damaged. I spoke a little while ago with Yesennia Torres as she was inspecting the gaping hole where the roof used to be on an apartment that she built next door to her house.

YESENNIA TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: She said the wind just kept picking up until it tore the roof right off.

SHAPIRO: With all those downed trees and power lines, is the town just completely in the dark?

FLORIDO: It is. There's not a single home or business that has power here. And that is true, Ari, in most of Puerto Rico, still. Puerto Rico's governor says that he's hoping most people will have power again in the next day or two. But I spoke with the mayor of this town, where I am now. His name is Jayson Martinez, and he actually was a lineman for Puerto Rico's electric utility company for 14 years. Listen to him.

JAYSON MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: He said that here in Lajas, it's going to be two or three months, in his estimation, before power is fully restored. And as I mentioned, he was a lineman for 14 years. So he knows a thing or two about what it takes to restore power in Puerto Rico.

SHAPIRO: Two to three months is a long time to go without power, even if it's not as long as it took Puerto Rico to fully restore power after Hurricane Maria. How are people feeling about the prospect of going without electricity for that long?

FLORIDO: I mean, you can imagine people are upset. No one wants to be without power for even three hours, let alone three months. But I'm also sensing that people were reluctantly resigned to this being one of the consequences of this storm because the grid is still so weak five years after Hurricane Maria destroyed it, which, I think it's worth pointing out, Ari, happened five years ago today.

SHAPIRO: You've done so much reporting from Puerto Rico over the years on the struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria. As you travel around the island, what are you seeing now in terms of, like, has Fiona set those efforts back?

FLORIDO: It has, tragically. And I say tragically because although the recovery from Maria has been really slow, there has been, nonetheless, some progress in reconstruction projects that have been meaningful to people. The mayor here told me about a community park and baseball diamond that Maria destroyed in 2017. And its reconstruction was finally completed just three weeks ago. And now Fiona came along and knocked over and destroyed again the light posts that allow children to play there at night. Here's Mayor Martinez talking about that.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: He said it took five years to repair that park, and now it's going - basically like going back to zero. And yet, he said, they have no choice but to start working again to repair that park for the community.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Adrian Florido reporting from Lajas, Puerto Rico. Thank you.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.