In this jungle community, self-sustaining homes are built from trash and can withstand the deadliest storms.
When Noemi and Carlos Chaparro peered outside on September 21, 2017, they gasped at the destruction. Hurricane Maria, which had made landfall the previous day, had uprooted the gracious old palm and bamboo groves that once stood on their family farm in northwest Puerto Rico. The wind had torn the roof off the bedroom their two sons shared. The electricity was down. To get water, Carlos and Noemi had to carry buckets from a nearby river. To feed their three kids, they captured a pigeon and cracked open coconuts. The family couldn’t reach a working phone until early October. “It was traumatic,” Noemi told me. “Apocalyptic.”
For the Chaparros and millions of other Puerto Ricans, the hurricane served as a bitter reminder that this vestige of forgotten American empire still relies on a federal government that can’t be trusted to provide for even its most basic needs. After Maria, the Trump administration responded, but with delays. Convinced the funds would only go to paying off Puerto Rico’s debts, President Donald Trump tried to divert aid to the battered coasts of Texas and Florida. Poor communication, ruined infrastructure, and shoddy transportation left crucial aid stranded in Puerto Rico’s ports for weeks. Nearly 3,000 people died. Five months after the storm, a fifth of the island’s population still lacked electricity. No American community has suffered through a longer blackout.