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article imageWater from a rock: Puerto Ricans cope with hurricane aftermath

By Leila Macor with Daniel Woolls in Washington (AFP)     Sep 29, 2017 in World

The white pipes carved into the foot of the rain-soaked mountain stick out like needles, and from them flows water.

Talk about a cool trick. This is one of the ways desperate and resilient Puerto Ricans are coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Just about everything's running short: gasoline, food, medicine, drinking water, and some sense that help from Washington or the local authorities is on the way.

Here in Comerio, a mountainous farming municipality in the central part of the US territory, people say they have yet to see any kind of aid from the Puerto Rican government or the gushing flow of relief assistance that President Donald Trump insists is reaching the Caribbean island of 3.4 million people, who are US citizens.

Just ask Subjehily Lopez, 34, who has stopped her van with five kids on a roadside and is filling dozens of bottles with water coming from one of those white pipes protruding from the side of a cliff.

"We were coming through here and we saw this," she said, pointing to the tube. "It is spring water. It is good water," Lopez told AFP.

The surrounding Comerio area's crops -- squash, plantain, a tuber called yautia -- were all destroyed when the hurricane hit last Wednesday. So were its chicken farms, which now sit smashed like soda cans.

In the town itself, flood waters from the La Plata River rose to five feet (1.5 meters). Stores are ruined, their merchandise piled up outside to be thrown away.

Whatever wasn't spoiled by the weather was looted. To this day, the streets are still covered in mud and the mud is still glistening wet.

Lopez said aid is going to San Juan, 20 miles (30 km) to the northeast, but not her way.

"They say there is aid but I have not seen any," Lopez said. "Out here in the country, you do not see it. You simply do not see it."

Trump has vigorously defended his administration's response to the havoc wrought in Puerto Rico amid criticism he was slow to react.

- 'We have food, thank God' -

A man removes a tree uprooted by Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa  Puerto Rico
A man removes a tree uprooted by Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico

"FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico. Massive food & water delivered," Trump tweeted Thursday evening. FEMA is the US disaster relief agency.

Still, it was only Thursday that he suspended, for 10 days, a 1920s-era shipping law that hindered delivery of supplies to Puerto Rico. The law stipulates that foreign flagged ships cannot leave from one US port and dock in another.

Trump will visit the island Tuesday to get a first-hand look at how the mammoth recovery effort is going.

If by any chance he were to come to Comerio, he would view some surreal scenes.

Along the mountain road leading south from Comerio sit what remains of a two-story house.

The top floor has been blown away, but for a bathroom standing in the middle. And plugged into a socket in one of wall of the bathroom is a microwave oven.

All the rest is just open air, a mess of clothes and debris.

An older couple used to live downstairs, their daughter and her husband and two kids upstairs. Now they all live on the ground floor.

Rafael Cumbas, the grandfather, 75, used to have a small store out by the road where he would sell plantains and other produce. Now it is ruined, and swarming with bees.

Cumbas, speaking from the now-airy top floor, remembers the pre-dawn hit of Maria and points to the vanished second floor.

"When this went, the downstairs started to leak, too. That little business I had, everything I had there, it's gone."

He said this was the first time since the storm he had spoken to anyone from outside the town, meaning no relief officials had come to Comerio.

What about water?

"We go out and look for it. Wherever there is water, we take the car and go get it. We have food, thank God."

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