Losing Everything After 45 Years

Jill L. Ferguson

Team Rubicon has been investing more than $4 million in Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria. We have hired local contractors to rebuild more than 400 roofs and a minimum of three houses by the end of 2018. But these numbers do not tell the whole story; the whole story can only be told by talking to the people whose lives have been changed by this investment, to homeowners, the local construction crews who are doing the work and the local Team Rubicon rebuild associate. The following article is part one in a three-part series that explores this investment from the people most affected.

Aurora Agosto has lived in her small house at the end of twisty road atop a hill in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, for more than 45 years. When Hurricane Maria approached the island in September 2017, Agosto evacuated to what she calls “a little house” where she was given “a little room” in her granddaughter’s house. Agosto and her family of nine, “lost everything, all of my clothes, my roof, everything,” she said on a hot summer day in September 2018, one year after Maria devastated her home and homeland.

She talked to Team Rubicon while sitting atop a pile of three bare, stained mattresses, in what used to be her kitchen. Three pots and four lids with remnants of a meal rested on a rough-hewn table. Makeshift planks and cinder block shelving held cooking ingredient essentials. The kitchen was bare of appliances and running water. A wheelchair was folded against the far wall. An orange and white kitten wandered in and out of the room, as did one of Agosto’s children, an adult daughter with special needs. Agosto explained what life had been like for the past year for her family of nine.

For seven or eight months, Agosto and two of her children who have special needs shuttled between the granddaughter’s house and their own roofless dwelling. She tried her best to fix what she could in her home, but there was so much she could not do, both physically and financially. She was frustrated by how much she lost in the hurricane, but also grateful that at least the structure of her home was mostly intact.

Eventually, FEMA and Team Rubicon assessed the needs of the Agosto family and Team Rubicon arranged for local contractors to build them a new roof. The day we spoke was the first day of the contractors on the job, and she called the relationship with them “very good.” By early afternoon, the carpenters had already built half of the new roof’s frame. “Thank God I got the help to get a new roof,” Agosto said in Spanish.

Her two-story home is made of wood and cement and has four rooms—a kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms—on the first floor and three unfinished rooms upstairs. Her daughter-in-law, her son and two babies live upstairs. Agosto, her husband, and three children live downstairs.

As Agosto talked to us and posed for the photographer, she shooed the kitten from the mattresses and pointed out the holes in her plywood floor. “I will be looking for help to fix the floors and the kitchen next,” she said. For now, she cooks simple meals in pots over a fire outside and uses big barrels to collect rainwater. They eat the fruit from the trees that grow on their property. The chickens in cages and running free in her front yard supply eggs and a necessary source of protein.

“Thank God,” she said again about the men working on her roof. “This has been very helpful.”

And as we walked down the driveway to leave, she sent one of the construction workers after us with three guava from her tree. “Gracias,” she called, “Nos vemos pronto.” Thank you. See you soon.

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