The uplifting strains of one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved songs filled the air at 6:15 a.m. on Thursday as a choir stood in the coastal town where Hurricane Maria made landfall at that moment exactly one year ago.

The serenade in Yabucoa, a fishing and farming town of 37,000 still struggling to recover from the Category 4 storm, was the first in a series of events to mark the anniversary of the devastating storm and remember the estimated 2,975 people who lost their lives in its aftermath. Protests were planned in San Juan and elsewhere, as well as a funeral procession. Tens of thousands remain without adequate shelter and reliable access to electrical power a year after the hurricane, which caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.

While the U.S. government has invested billions of dollars to help clean up and repair the U.S. territory, much work remains. Major power outages are still being reported, tens of thousands of insurance claims are still pending and nearly 60,000 homes still have temporary roofs unable to withstand a Category 1 hurricane.

In this Sept. 12, 2018 photo, a piano stands in a restaurant destroyed one year ago by Hurricane Maria in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Businesses closures due to the storm’s destruction, or bankruptcy after Maria’s passage, triggered 15,000 requests for local government subsidies from people who lost their jobs, most of them in the tourism sector after sea-side establishments were wiped out. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

“I think it’s inexplicable,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general, told The Associated Press during a visit to the island Thursday. “There’s no justifiable reason I can see for this gross level of negligence.”

Government officials argue that many changes have been made to better prepare Puerto Rico for future storms, but they acknowledge that significant obstacles remain.

In this Sept. 8, 2018 photo, a home that was abandoned after Hurricane Maria hit one year ago stands full of furniture in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans living below the poverty line were pushed to the brink of despair by the storm, struggling for food, housing and medicine. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Jose Ortiz, director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, told reporters that 20 percent of repairs made to the power grid need to be redone. He said crews didn’t have access to the best materials at the time or were forced to rely on temporary fixes, such as using trees as makeshift power polls after Maria destroyed up to 75 percent of transmission lines.

In addition, municipal officials have complained that reconstruction efforts are too slow. Ariel Soto, assistant to the mayor of the mountain town of Morovis, said that 220 families there remain without a proper roof.

In this Sept. 7, 2018 photo, a Coca-Cola trailer destroyed one year ago by Hurricane Maria stands on the side of the road in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. Researchers from George Washington University hired by Puerto Rico’s government estimated in August 2018 that 2,975 people had died because of Maria in the six months after landfall, a number Puerto Rico accepted as official. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

“We’re still waiting for help,” he said. “This hit us hard.”

In Yabucoa, tarps still covered many homes that have yet to be rebuilt even as the hopeful strains of “Amanecer Borincano” — “Puerto Rican Dawn” — resonated at the spot where Maria first unleashed its fury. “I am the light of the morning that illuminates new paths,” the choir sang to the dozens of local officials and residents gathered there. “I am the son of palm trees, of fields and rivers.”

In this Sept. 11, 2018 photo, a lone wall from a home destroyed one year ago by Hurricane Maria stands in the mountain town of Naranjito, Puerto Rico. Maria destroyed over 200,000 homes on the island, according to the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Public Security Commission President Felix Lasalle. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In the capital, San Juan, among those still living under a blue tarp during the peak of hurricane season was Sixta Gladys Pena, a 72-year-old community leader.

“You worry, because you think it’s going to fly off like it did before,” she said. “We’ve lost an entire year and nothing has been resolved. You feel powerless.”

In this Sept. 8, 2018 photo, vegetation grows over a car that was abandoned one year ago during Hurricane Maria in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s governor said that his administration has adopted new measures to better prepare for a disaster like Maria although he warned of limitations given the U.S. territory’s economic crisis. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Ricans also have become increasingly angry and frustrated as President Donald Trump recently touted what he said was a “fantastic” response to Hurricane Maria, calling it an “unsung success” as he denied the official death toll without presenting any evidence.

Nivia Rodriguez, a 60-year-old retiree whose uncle died a week after the storm, said she grew upset after watching videos of rescue crews in North Carolina when Hurricane Florence hit.

In this Sept. 8, 2018 photo, Ramon Alicea Burgos walks past his palm tree, with its top broken off one year ago by Hurricane Maria one outside his partially rebuilt home in the mountain town of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. Burgos, 82, partially repaired his home with $14,000 in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and $6,000 he had saved since his wife died four years ago, but says the funds are insufficient after a spike building material costs. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

“They saved five dogs that were drowning,” she said, adding that she feels Puerto Rico didn’t get the same treatment. “That hits you.”

Like many, Rodriguez hoped that after Thursday, she would no longer be bombarded by photos and videos that make her feel like she’s reliving Hurricane Maria.

This Sept. 8, 2018 photo shows some of Ramon Alicea Burgos’ belongings inside a temporary room he built under the structure of his partially built home, unfinished for lack of funds, in the mountain town of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. The 82-year-old widower said Hurricane Maria destroyed everything he had. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

“It’s too much,” she said.

But others felt that Maria’s tragic legacy still needs to be acknowledged, long after the anniversary has passed. Among them was a group of artists unveiling an exhibition called simply, “6:15 A.M.”

In this Sept. 7, 2018 photo, a man with back problems uses his cane to carry food and other staples donated from from the MARC Ministry, a non-profit charity in Manati, Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20, 2017, thousands of Puerto Ricans living below the poverty line were pushed to the brink of despair. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Artist Omar Banuchi, who organized the exhibit, said he was reluctant at first, in part because he didn’t know how to approach the subject. “It’s something that affected all of us and keeps affecting us,” he said.

He said the exhibition walks a fine line, with some paintings showing beautiful landscapes alongside trailers set up by Puerto Rico’s forensics institute as part of the effort to try to identify the bodies of those who perished in the storm. There also will be live music that will incorporate sounds of the hurricane hitting the island.

“The point is for people to have a good time,” Banuchi said. “But there will be certain uncomfortable moments. … Maria is still a difficult topic.”

Source: The Associated Press

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