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Puerto Rico's southern coastal communities may be some of the last to get power back


We have a look now at some of the damage from Hurricane Fiona. NPR's Greg Allen is in Puerto Rico.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Maunabo is a small community on Puerto Rico's southeast coast, nestled between the mountains and the beach. It's fairly isolated. People here have to be self-sufficient. At a small service station in the center of town, more than a dozen people are waiting in line, gas cans in hand, to get fuel for their generators. Some, like 77-year-old Roberto Valle, seem resigned to many more days like this.

ROBERTO VALLE: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: "After Hurricane Maria five years ago," he says, "it was eight months until my power was restored. That was eight months of buying fuel for the generator." Puerto Rico's governor, Pedro Pierluisi, while optimistic about the pace of the effort to repair the electrical grid, cautioned that it will take longer to restore service for communities on the south coast, where many towers, poles and lines are down. In Maunabo, the mayor says the power company has said service to the town center should be back in one to three weeks. But in many of the municipality's rural areas, the wait will be longer. The town's also dealing with other issues following Hurricane Fiona. A few miles up a steep mountain road, work crews are using backhoes and dump trucks to repair a bridge that washed out in the storm.

EDDIE LEBRON: This neighborhood is Matuyas. It's, like, 60 families live around this neighborhood.

ALLEN: That's Eddie LeBron. He grew up in Matuyas. Many of his brothers and sisters still live there. It's just on the other side of a small, normally placid river. But on Sunday, when Fiona hit, Eddie's brother Orlando LeBron says heavy rains turned the river into a torrent. He says he knew the bridge was in trouble.

ORLANDO LEBRON: We saw the growing river, and it would get dark and the sound of the river.

ALLEN: By the next morning, the road on either side of the bridge had been washed away. A local contractor who has family in Matuyas quickly got to work, making temporary repairs that allow residents to get back into town. Maunabo's Mayor Angel Lafuente says this is the third time temporary repairs have been made to the bridge that Hurricane Maria destroyed in 2017.

ANGEL LAFUENTE: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: He says a permanent replacement bridge is in the plans, but FEMA and the federal government are still conducting hydrological studies. Lafuente says in Maunabo, like many other communities in Puerto Rico, local officials are still trying to assess the extent of the damage.

LAFUENTE: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: He says, "There are still rural communities here that I haven't been able to reach to see how badly some of the villages have been damaged." In this small community, Matuyas, Orlando LeBron says despite the lack of power, he's never gotten a generator. He doesn't think he needs one.

There's no power?

O LEBRON: No power, no - we live with the sun up there. That's it. And if we want to take a shower, we got a river there. Yeah, we're lucky about that.

ALLEN: There's another challenge here, one resident says, one shared by other rural communities following Hurricane Fiona. Most young people have left these small towns. Many who live here are elderly and not up to the hard work of hurricane recovery.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Maunabo, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.