Voices of loss in the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Some of the stories of Puerto Rican dead in the wake of Hurricane Maria, among 487 collected by The Associated Press, the news site Quartz and Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism:
Ernesto Curiel, a 60-year-old former public employee, suffered from years of heart problems and diabetes. After the storm he had to take 10 flights of stairs twice a day after the storm to get insulin from a refrigerator cooled by a generator on the ground floor of his condominium. On Oct. 29, he died of a heart attack.
“He was in a fragile state, but not so fragile that he’d only last a month after the hurricane,” said his wife, Gloria Rosado Ortiz.
Rosado said she applied to FEMA in November 2017 for financial aid to defray $4,000 in funeral costs.
“They told me that since the government has just recognized that there were more deaths, there’s been an avalanche of cases and it is going to take some time,” she said last month.
Joaquín Solivan Ocasio, 42, died at Manatí Medical Center on Oct. 12. He had suffered from a sharp pain in his abdomen, but power outages had delayed the diagnosis for more than 20 days, said his wife, Diana Berrios Santiago. The results arrived two weeks after he died.
“My husband had blood cancer, a treatable illness that turned into a death sentence because it wasn’t treated with care,” she said.
Felipe Figueroa Rosa, 84, couldn’t use his sleep apnea machine because of power outages. He woke up in the middle of the night, out of breath.
“We didn’t have a generator,” said his daughter, Yanira Figueroa. “I called the ambulance three times and nothing. It never arrived.”
He died on Oct. 15, three days before his scheduled flight to leave Puerto Rico.
On Oct. 20, Alejandro González Vázquez, 47, committed suicide instead of boarding his flight back to the US mainland. Unable to reach his family, he had come to Puerto Rico to check in on them, said his niece, Chardlyn Gonzalez Malave. But during his stay, Vázquez was unable to obtain his antipsychotic medication. “Everything he saw here after the hurricane passed affected him,” she said.
Luis Manuel Vázquez Rodríguez collapsed in his bathroom on Oct. 3. The 60-year-old diabetic had been in fine health, said his daughter Cristina Vazquez O’Neill, but struggled to find insulin after Maria.
“Everything was chaos. There was no access to anything, to medicine,” she recalled. “Going to the pharmacy meant kilometers-long lines.”
On Nov. 25, Juana Castro Rivera, 52, died of leptospirosis. Over the previous two weeks, she’d been to her community clinic several times for pain. She was only diagnosed with the bacterial infection, caused by exposure to contaminated water, after being taken to a hospital in a neighboring county. “It was too late,” said her daughter Yelitza Otero Castro.
Patricia Nicole Figueroa Colón, 18, was hit by a speeding car as she crossed the street on Jan 3. The street lamps were out and so was the traffic light.
“The impact was fatal. They didn’t take her to the hospital. She died on the spot,” her half-sister Shastiry Figueroa Diaz said.