SEPTEMBER 12, 2018
VILLALBA, Puerto Rico
Angel, 11, put on his green and yellow school uniform and brushed his teeth over his kitchen sink, pouring out water from a gallon jug. He packed a lunch box with a frozen water bottle because the drinking fountain at his school “tastes like dirt.”
Farther down the hill, his great-grandfather, Carlos Fernandez, 90, flushed his face with water from a plastic bottle, just outside the one-room wooden house where he and his wife have been living since Hurricane Maria destroyed their spacious, two-bedroom home. His 85-year-old wife, Petra Gonzalez, tried opening the faucet in the sink that hangs out of the window of the tiny house. Nothing came out.
On this Monday morning late last month, the family’s matriarch resorted, yet again, to using a metal can to scoop water out of a pot to wash dishes, her wrinkled hands moving slowly.
“Ay, it gets tiring,” Gonzalez said.
The entire family is tired of living like this. They went months without electrical power or water, and even now, the tap water comes and goes for several days at a time.
This morning marked their fifth day in a row without running water, their fifth day in a row of filling up buckets from their only reserve — a blue tank at the top of the hill. Their fifth day in a row showering with pails of cold water in the single bathroom they all share.
“Without power, we could light a candle or a generator,” Gonzalez said. “But water? Water is everything.”
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‘Water is everything.’ But for many in Puerto Rico, it is still scarce.
In the year since Hurricane Maria, 50 percent of the island’s residents say people in their households couldn’t get enough water to drink. For four generations of one family, the daily struggle is excruciating.