Although the images of homeless families and crushed houses have faded from the national spotlight, millions living in Puerto Rico are still struggling to find basic necessities such as food, water and electricity.
For Gary Grant-Daley, the struggle has led to the relocation of his family, delayed medical treatment and spending $120 on gas every week to keep his generators going.
Still, he considers himself one of the lucky ones.
Grant-Daley, 68, worked as a police officer in Atlantic City for 27 years. He stood next to the podium when the referendum allowing casino gaming in the city was signed, and he held a rope to keep people in line during the opening of Resorts Casino Hotel in 1978. As a teenager, he worked at Steeplechase Pier.
He moved to Puerto Rico on Sept. 10, 2001, following his time as a police officer and fell in love with the island because of its natural beauty and “laid-back, friendly people.”
On Sept. 21, however, Grant-Daley’s life, and the lives of everyone living in Puerto Rico, was changed forever following the catastrophic damage Hurricane Maria left in its wake.
“The doors (of the house) were slamming in and out so fast it sounded like a rapid heartbeat,” he said. “I witnessed a lot of storms living in Atlantic City, but there was nothing ever like this.”
Now, over two months after the hurricane, Grant-Daley is still without power. He and his family, which includes his wife, Maritza, stepdaughter Itzamarie and 6-year-old grandson Alejandro, left their home in Arroyo, which has no power or running water, to live in San Juan, where conditions are slightly better.
UPPER DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP — The national headlines have largely moved on from the devastation…
Grant-Daley and his family now have running water, but they have to keep the generators going around the clock. He would like to shut off the generator at night, but because he has to use a CPAP machine for his sleep apnea, doing that is impossible, Grant-Daley said.
Conditions around the island have slightly improved in the past two months — the local governments are cleaning up debris to prevent mosquito infestations, and cell service is spotty instead of nonexistent in some parts of the island.
But bureaucratic holdups and neglected infrastructure are slowing the whole process down.
“We’re not sitting here on our asses saying, ‘Give me this or give me that,’” Grant-Daley said. “All we’re asking for is basic necessities. The people are out here every day cleaning this up.”
Major retail chains such as Old Navy and JC Penney have remained closed or run out of items to sell because shipments have stopped and the power is spotty. Hardware stores like the Home Depot don’t have wood to sell to people to use to fix their homes.
Places farther away from San Juan are in even worse shape, Grant-Daley said. His home in Arroyo still has no electricity or running water. Makeshift soup kitchens have popped up in vacant lots.
Grant-Daley said Puerto Ricans are always there for each other, and he has been trying to help people who have lost everything.
“The people of Puerto Rico are resilient,” he said. “They are American citizens but haven’t been treated the same way as the people in Florida or Texas when they had storms.”
He said he makes sure to stop and thank the people working on the power lines and electrical grid.
Officials have been promising some residents their power could be restored within a few days, but that has now turned into two months, he said.
“The whole electrical system here was neglected for so long,” he said. “The electric poles fell like dominoes in some places.”
Some schools have reopened without electricity, but politicians are already fighting over how and when the students will report to school to make up for the time they have missed.
And on top of it all, Grant-Daley has tried to rebuild what he’s lost with an injured knee. He is in need of an MRI, but many of the facilities that offer the procedure are closed because it uses too much power.
Instead, he will have to wait several weeks to get an MRI at the local VA Hospital, which is being guarded by troops with assault rifles.
“The pain has gotten better, but I still walk with a cane as a security blanket,” he said.
Despite all that, Grant-Daley has never considered leaving and moving back to Atlantic City.
“I love Atlantic City, but I didn’t recognize it when I came back and visited five years ago,” he said. “We’re going to stay here. The root of everything is getting the power back on. The people of Puerto Rico are strong, and I have a firm belief that everything is going to work out.”