US war veteran’s home destroyed in Puerto Rico

Jose Diaz hadn’t seen his wife, Lydia Pabon, cry in years.

Then Hurricane Maria ripped a massive tree out of the ground and dropped it into their living room. The roof over their bedroom is torn off. Tree branches are resting on their mattress. Paintings have fallen to the floor. Shattered glass covers the foyer. The floors are caving in.

The couple of 31 years lives in Ponce, Puerto Rico, a coastal city of 163,000 residents not far where the hurricane made landfall.

For Lydia, 78, it’s the only place she’s ever lived. She was looking forward to spending her golden years on the property where she was raised. Now, she describes her fond memories of growing up here as “torture.”

Surveying the massive damage, Pabon, a stout woman with a stern face, began crying.

“I’ll take any help, even a little help, but some help,” she told CNN outside her home, wiping away tears. “It’s really hard … I won’t find another place.”

Diaz, 83, served in the US army during the Korean War. He tried to reassure his distraught spouse that they will eventually be okay.

“Things can be repaired,” he told her.

Almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria churned across Puerto Rico, the couple say not one federal official or relief organization has visited their house, which is across the street from a state trooper’s office.

Pabon actually had to convince her husband to leave the house before Maria struck. They took refuge in her niece’s house and now live next door to their wrecked home, staying with her sister Juanita.

Many of the 3.4 million US citizens on the island are in the same position.

Only about 7% of the island has electricity and 40% has phone service. Even in Puerto Rico’s popular tourist areas, service is very checkered.

Access to fresh running water also is spotty. Southern Puerto Rico has most of its water back, but the capital, San Juan, only has half of its faucets functioning while the island’s western area only has 19% running water, according to Puerto Rican government statistics.

Lights, cell service and tap water are afterthoughts for Lydia and Jose. The sun beats down on a small reading room underneath what’s left of a shredded roof. Tree branches crushed the living room.

A few things survived. A blender. The concrete steps to their wooden home. The colorful magnets of fruit that remain stuck to the refrigerator.

But Pabon still hopes to live out the rest of her years on her land. She pointed out that the steel bed frame is still in good shape, despite exposure to the elements.

“I would like to rebuild here,” she said, although her tone does not sound hopeful.

For Diaz, it’s also almost too much to bear. His eyes welled up with tears as he surveyed the destruction.

“This came out of nowhere,” he said. “We built this little house into our home.”

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