Entire towns are decimated. Roads remain washed out. Residents are still desperate, dehydrated and living in the dark.
Welcome to Puerto Rico.
Five weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. territory, the island of 3.4 million people remains a portrait of despair.
Daily News photographer Marcus Santos spent 10 days in Puerto Rico’s remote interior, documenting the devastation in small towns largely cut off from the capital of San Juan.
Downed power lines and tangled bamboo groves hang precariously over the roads leading to the center of the island.
In the mountain town of Utuado, residents gather along sections of the roadway to siphon brown water out of copper pipes.
They bring with them any containers they can find – milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, even empty gas canisters.
The storm ripped off the walls and roof of Santos Sotos’ home in the district of Indiera Alta.
Nearby, a bar was left with no roof or windows. Anyone looking for water or soda was out of luck here.
“What do you have?” a visitor asked.
“Cold beer,” the barkeep replied.
A mudslide punched cow-sized holes in the Rev. Billy Phillips’ beige house with green trim.
The unseen aftermath of Hurricane Maria in the heart of Puerto Rico
Two feet of reddish dirt still rests on the floor, and the walls and ceilings were still splattered with mud. “We luckily were saved by God’s mercy,” said Phillips, pastor of a local church.
An abandoned house, its walls yellow and its interior filled with dirt, sits along a steep road near Dos Bocas Lake.
A mudslide also enveloped this home, tossing one car into a swimming pool and hurling another onto the side of the road.
The family’s Labrador was crushed under the second vehicle, leaving a stench that watered the eyes. “Message for anyone, help,” the owner scrawled on the side of the house.
In the historic town of Lares, the colorful ranch houses appear normal when seen from street level. But a view from above reveals rows of homes with their tin roofs sheared off.
At night, residents use the lights from their cellphones to play dominoes. Because the Iglesia de Dios Pentacostal church was destroyed, Mass is celebrated outside on a concrete slab.
Nelson Crespo, 58, issued an anguished appeal for help.
“I can tell you a lie right now,” Crespo said. “I can tell you everything is fine in Puerto Rico.
“In Lares, we need water. Today was the first time we see government or army trucks going toward the town. Before that, nobody.
“If you want to see what’s happening, come to Puerto Rico, go to small towns, you can see a woman asking for dirty water for her kids…”
Crespo, overcome by emotion, went silent. “That’s all I have to say,” he added.