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CNN Special Reports
Storm of Controversy: What Really Happened in Puerto Rico. Aired 11-12p ET
Aired September 21, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN SPECIAL REPORT.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, it is the worst that I have seen. This storm has intensified.
We are feeling wind gusts of 113 miles per hour.
BILL WEIR, CNN: One year ago, Maria came to Puerto Rico like a chainsaw in the sky -- 100 miles wide.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is definitely the worst wind we're seeing so far.
WEIR: Six months worth of rain fell in days. Dams cracked. Hillsides fell. Systems failed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maria has knocked out power to the entire island.
WEIR: But Mother Nature's wrath was just the beginning. And human nature would mean the difference between life and death.
What is your death count as of this moment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 16.
WEIR: 16 people certified. 16 people versus in the thousands.
They were wrong. Thousands would die.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is really a good news story. And the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've running out of food and water.
WEIR: And while the President brags --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.
WEIR: This tragedy will go down in history. And it's not over yet. Tonight, a CNN special report, storm of controversy. What really happened in Puerto Rico?
Welcome to old San Juan. A City named after John the Baptist by Christopher Columbus on an island that has been part of the United States for over a century, but one of the most tragic chapters in the long rich history of this place was written in the last year. And it is still unfolding. It's a story of unprecedented destruction that came from the ocean and for many an even more frustrating response coming from the President in charge of protecting it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happening now, breaking news. Monster storm.
WEIR: Summer of '17 was a perfect storm of perfect storms. First, hurricane Harvey blasted Texas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is delivering not only punishing winds, but the potential for feet of rain. Feet.
WEIR: Then Irma careened through the Caribbean on its way to the Florida Keys. And when it graced Puerto Rico, they thought they had dodged a bullet, but then a little storm named Maria grew into the mother of god awfulness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maria changed from a tropical storm to a category five hurricane in historic speed. We had never anticipated an event of this magnitude here in Puerto Rico and I think that is one of the lessons learned.
WEIR: One of the primary missions of the federal emergency management agency is preparedness, but a federal review has revealed that their supply warehouses were empty. Every tarp and cot had been sent to the Virgin Islands for Irma.
FEMA had only a handful of satellite phones and less than 100 generators on a blacked out island in need of thousands.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are out of food. We're running out of food and water.
WEIR: From Vieques in the east to Mayaguez in the west, we documented day after day of desperation. The only help coming from neighbors or kind-hearted combat vets who's flew down on their own dime and slept in an abandoned airport.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're at like 30,000 meals, 35,000 meals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how many -- that is just with the small trucks we've had, and by hook and by crook getting supplies.
WEIR: Celebrity chef Jose Andres rounded up an army of volunteers and managed to hand out 3 million meals, but all the while, there was one common refrain. Where is FEMA?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As soon as I got off the chopper, a gentleman came toward me and he said hey, who are you? I said I'm CNN. I'm asking if this is --
WEIR: My colleague Leyla Santiago has been providing relentless award winning coverage since day one.
SANTIAGO: And he was so angry. I mean he was mad.
WEIR: Because you weren't FEMA.
SANTIAGO: Because I didn't have any help with me. I had questions. And so he was angry. He walked away and within seconds, a woman came out of nowhere and just hug me. She had no idea who I was, but I was the first outsider she had seen in days.
WEIR: Couldn't you use national guardsmen in two-week rotations to come in? Are you begging your bosses for more men?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we have 4500 national guards coming in.
WEIR: I met Puerto Rico's number two in command in Puerto Rico one month after the storm, he told me he had 17,000 people working on the island.
[23:05:03] But just as a point of comparison, two weeks after the Haiti quake, the U.S. had 22,000 troops on the ground in a foreign country. This is such a massive disaster, so much humanitarian need, shouldn't it be all hands on deck? That is what I'm hearing from the locals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have all hands on deck at this time.
WEIR: An internal FEMA report would later reveal more than half of those 17,000 were untrained, unqualified, or didn't speak Spanish. If you could go back in time the week before the storm, the month before the storm, what would you do differently?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would actually look at the plans, I would come in and talk to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and revise the plans.
WEIR: Do you think the Puerto Rican plans were bad or FEMA's plans were bad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our plans were the same plans because we developed the plans jointly with them. The Puerto Rican plans were done for the catastrophic (inaudible). They were done based on history of disasters in Puerto Rico that were not catastrophic.
WEIR: But all the while, the commander in chief was assuring the nation that everything was under control. 13 days in, President Trump visited Guaynabo, a relatively wealthy suburb of San Juan and far from the hardest hit area.
TRUMP: I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.
WEIR: And he was quick to add insult to injury pointing out the island's history of weak infrastructure and enormous debt.
TRUMP: Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, what is your death count as of this moment? 17?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 16 certified.
TRUMP: 16 people certified. 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together.
WEIR: But given that hospitals remained dark, hot, and unsterile for weeks, given that hundreds of thousands were drinking dirty water and sleeping on soaking beds under broken roofs, few believe the body count could really be so low.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that sort of raised a lot of red flags for people.
WEIR: Including CNN investigative reporter, John Sutter.
JOHN SUTTER, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Because what we were hearing anecdotally was that there were hospitals where the morgues were overflowing with people. There were certain towns where the number of dead seemed to almost match the official count which then was 16. President Trump leaves the island, the death count jumps to 34, but still we weren't satisfied that that was the real number.
WEIR: So John and Leyla assembled a team and started digging.
SANTIAGO: So we started to call every single funeral home which proved to be a challenge, because most of them didn't have power. They didn't have a telephone. And reaching only half the funeral homes, we realized there were about 500 deaths. That was nine times what the government of Puerto Rico was reporting. So, early on we realized maybe we don't know the number, but we know it ain't this.
[23:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we take from what happened in Puerto Rico, how do we apply the lessons we took from Puerto Rico?
TRUMP: I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. I actually think it was one of the best jobs that is ever been done with respect to what was this is all about. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. Texas we have been given a pluses for. Florida we've been given a pluses for. I think in a certain way the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean it's harder to understand.
WEIR: What is even harder to understand is how the President could say such a thing on the very same day we discovered this staggering example of failure and waste.
How do you explain the millions of bottles of water we found sitting on a runway?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that is part of the operation that we had to provide commodities in Puerto Rico. We had excess water when we actually got to the beginning of the year, because we were bringing in massive amounts of food and water to the island.
WEIR: After FEMA initially blamed local authorities for failing to distribute, they now admit they simply brought in too much water too late.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're investigating also how we got to this page, because that is a big lesson learned.
WEIR: But less important than the millions of dollars wasted is knowing how many lives that water could have saved. And you uncovered these outbreak of a water borne illness that people should have known about in real-time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's this disease called leptospirosis.
WEIR: It is caused by drinking water tainted with animal waste which countless folks were forced to consume in all those months of broken pipes and powerless pumps.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is how had we sued for the documents, we didn't know there was either an outbreak or an epidemic that the government still has not acknowledged occurred in that magnitude. We ran these documents by a number of experts in this field and they were frankly stunned by the number of cases that were showing up and how fatal this disease was.
WEIR: Our team also noticed that specific individuals who definitely died in the storm were not counted in the official toll. Like Jose Pepe Sanchez.
SANTIAGO: Gentleman is at a home. He has a stroke. The person with him calls 911. 911 says we can't get to him in time because 1850- mile-per-hour winds are pounding us right now. Is that a hurricane related death.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
SANTIAGO: Allow me to introduce you to Jose Pepe. That was his case.
[23:15:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're the first person the first media outlet and I'll say it publicly that brings in information for us to verify.
SANTIAGO: But is that the media's job or is that your job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's our job to take care of 2,900 bodies during every month to see that the doctor, the doctors certify that the deaths occur in the way that it happened. SANTIAGO: But later on when we were looking at the official list,
Pepe's name wasn't on there. So I challenged them again. I said well, where's Pepe. They actually ended up taking off someone from the list to add Pepe.
WEIR: So the number would stay the same?
SANTIAGO: They wouldn't admit that, but that is happened, yes.
SANTIAGO: So there was there -- this desire to not touch that number 64.
WEIR: The department of health now insists it was just a mistake. Americans generally respond to big problems in big ways, but when the official death toll is a few dozen which is you know an average tornado or something, that sets is certain expectations and meanwhile everybody on this island knew it would be in the thousands, not the dozens. Why did it stay so low for so long and were you pressured to keep it that way for any political reason.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at all. Not at all. I was not pressured we had to execute a protocol. Again, there was a new platform for us and we had lost every -- every way, shape, or form of communicating. So what we did was we employed a protocol from the CDC which as you stated, it was very low. Every time I gave a death count I would say that this number is likely going to be much higher. And at that point, I decided to stop the count which was at around 64. Because it really wasn't working.
WEIR: The governor then asked public health scientists at George Washington University to explore how many excess deaths happened in the six months after Maria. Their estimate, 2,975, a death toll jump of more than 4500 percent. That number would include people like Miguel Santana, a U.S. Veteran who drove off a washed out bridge in pitch darkness. And Natalia Rodriguez whose breathing machine quit when his family's generator ran out of gas.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we had electricity, normal electricity at that time, he could be alive still today.
WEIR: How many applications have you received for funeral assistance?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, I have about 2,235 total cases that have provided me death certificates.
WEIR: Do you suspect people are trying to game that system to get money that they don't deserve?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not really. Not really.
WEIR: So FEMA and Puerto Rico's governor now say they have proof that thousands, not dozens, but thousands of Americans died. Making this storm the deadliest in modern history, but the President tweeted that the numbers have been fudged by Democrats. To make him look bad. President Trump wants to cast doubt on that number. He says it's
manufactured for political reasons. While giving the response a plus saying it was an unsung success. Your response.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't disagree with facts. You can't disagree with science. And in my view and as a scientist, this was a very robust scientific process. Number one, number two, you know, the people of Puerto Rico and the victims should not have their pain questioned.
WEIR: Do you think more Puerto Ricans would be alive today with a different leadership in Washington?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's another underlying problem and it is important that we talk about this because it sometimes gets lost in there shuffle. And it's the fact that Puerto Rico is a colonial territory of the United States. The difference between the response to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and there was a difference, was that we're treated as second class citizens. It's plain and simple.
WEIR: FEMA's own statistics show that by nine days after their storms, Texas and Florida had received twice the water and four times the amount of food and tarps. To be fair, unlike those states, Americans can't drive to Puerto Rico to help. And the island's second class infrastructure made logistics so much harder, but who's to blame for that?
SANTIAGO: Why wasn't Pepe more prepared if he knew how vulnerable the system was.
WEIR: And after the storm, when the grid needed fixing, why did Puerto Rico offer $300 million to a tiny company from Montana?
How the hell did you get this contract?
We'll keep digging when "Storm of controversy" continues.
WEIR: When your power is out for days, a man in a line should be a sign of hope, but when the power was out for the better part of a year in Puerto Rico, a man on a line could also be a sign of desperation.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SANTIAGO: He says they're repairing the power themselves because they're almost at nine months without power and they feel abandoned.
WEIR: Leyla la found Charlie Reyes taking matters into his own hands. He had no electrical experience. And was using scraps of wire taken from fallen poles, but he still did for his community what officials could not. He got the lights back on. Yes!
[23:25:00] SANTIAGO: You get a little emotional about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. Do you know how long I don't see the light in my house? Nine months. Nine months.
WEIR: At first, it looked like these guys would be the saviors. Pros from the mainland who claimed to have the skills to string power over mountains and through jungles.
How the hell did you get this contract? You're a brand-new company, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been around for a few years.
WEIR: But when people learned that Puerto Rico's bankrupt power utility Prepa had given a tiny Montana company a $300 million contract, they got suspicious. The head of Whitefish energy negotiated that deal over the phone while the storm was still blowing. A deal that seemed to pay him many times the going rate for men and equipment. When the governor and FEMA found out, he was fired.
Everyone used that as sort of a symbol of what was going wrong down here at the federal level, but what was happening with Prepa?
SANTIAGO: Right. The power authority, Prepa who actually has a good grasp on this island, they know the land, they know the challenges, lost control and it went to the army corps of engineers.
WEIR: This area is going to be down for a little while for electricity.
SANTIAGO: I wasn't -- Prepa more prepared if they knew how vulnerable the system was.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because in the power system, you don't fix in one day. You don't fix in one week. You don't fix in one month. You don't fix in one year. It takes ten years to fix the vulnerabilities that the Prepa system had.
WEIR: Ricardo Ramos was the head of Prepa, who gave Whitefish that contract and then stepped down amid scandal. He tells Leyla he would do it all over again. Because Whitefish had a bargeful of men and equipment impossible to find after Harvey and Irma. They didn't ask for any money up front. And Prepa records now show they ultimately repaired five transmission lines, cheaper and faster than other contractors.
SANTIAGO: So are you saying that essentially ending the contract with Whitefish delayed power restoration?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly. The news of the Whitefish came out. Everybody got scared including FEMA. FEMA tells me I'm not going to reimburse you anymore. I'm in chapter 9, you know, Prepa is. People assume the worst and they stopped me right there. That was part of the plan.
WEIR: Jose Ortiz is the new head of Prepa. And lessons learned he says if the island gets hit again, he has 32 power companies lined up ready to help.
SANTIAGO: Why didn't Puerto Rico do that for Maria?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They did too late. They did too late. I don't think we were prepared. We didn't realize we need to have inventory, manufacturing for a major catastrophe like this. A lot of mismanagement.
WEIR: But power was just one snafu. Shelter was another. A month after the storm, I found Anita sleeping on a bed soaked with rain water, the smell of mold thick in every room.
What is your biggest frustration today? What do you need more than anything else?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A blue tarp.
WEIR: Blue tarps the mayor told me. I need a thousand. It's been raining a lot. Operation blue roof was supposed to fill that need, but when CNN investigative reporter, John Sutter dug into Army corps of engineers' records, he found nearly 50,000 requests for tarps still unfilled almost three months after the storm. Including Carmen, who had broken her arm sweeping water out of her living room.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
JOHN SUTTER, CNN: I tweeted about her situation and the next day the army corps came in and put a tarp on her roof which they called like a spectacular coincidence.
[23:30:02] There were people waiting all across the island for this really basic thing which was a dry place to sleep.
WEIR: Carmen was eventually one of the lucky ones. Almost a year after Maria, she finally got an actual roof.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): We put all of the roof.
WEIR: But there are tens of thousands still waiting in line.
Look at this. I mean, this is the kind of scene I'm used to seeing maybe a month of after a storm, two months after. This is a year later. You're still living like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): We are still unlucky like yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): Yeah.
In Utuado, Wilfredo Cruz filled out his paperwork months ago and heard a lot of promises unfulfilled.
Today, when it starts raining today, do you get worried?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. It's not raining, forget it. When it starts raining, everything drops. The water drops down here.
WEIR: While the Puerto Rican government is set to receive $20 billion in federal funding to rebuild, homeowners like Wilfredo will likely have to move somewhere less vulnerable to get their share. To meet these massive needs, FEMA headquarters in San Juan is packed and buzzing these days as if the storm was still blowing.
TITO HERNANDEZ, DEPUTY FEDERAL COORDINATION OFFICER, FEMA: I have people working here that don't have power still. Disaster survivors, that their house is leaking, that the house doesn't have a roof. And we're working with them day to day because they're committed to this.
WEIR: Back in Washington, D.C., the head of FEMA, Brock Long, told me that he understands the frustrations. But in a new normal of more frequent, more powerful storms, Americans should adjust their expectations and become a lot more self-sufficient.
BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: Anytime FEMA is the first responder and the primary responder like we were in Puerto Rico, it's never an ideal situation. But I do believe, you know, for example, with Puerto Rico that we kept that island from complete and total collapse.
WEIR: You think so?
LONG: I do, yeah.
ERNESTO IRIZARRY SALVA, MAYOR OF UTUADO: FEMA come here three weeks later the hurricane. Utuado going up for the people of Utuado, not FEMA. The people working in Utuado, with your hands. The children, the old lady, old men working together with machete in hand.
WEIR: But the mayor of Utuado --
IRIZARRY SALVA: Broken.
WEIR: -- bristles at the idea his town of 35,000 would have collapsed without the FEDs. You want a lesson in self-sufficiency, he says, come here.
IRIZARRY SALVA: It's disrespectful that FEMA say the people of Utuado are not crying to FEMA. We survive. With FEMA, with no FEMA, with government, with no government. The people who lost everything survive.
WEIR: We will survive, he says.
IRIZARRY SALVA: OK.
WEIR: But how can Puerto Ricans on an even smaller island survive? Next up, a trip to a blacked out paradise.
[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) WEIR: This is a reunion flight with an angel.
A little bit different flying out of here now than a year ago.
STEVEN PAULI, PILOT: Oh, yeah, definitely.
WEIR: I remember the tension in the voice of the air traffic controllers.
His name is Steven Pauli. And in the days after Maria knocked out all the island's radar, he volunteered to put his plane and himself at risk to fly me to Vieques.
PAULI: The air space is so crazy. It's actually dangerous right now.
WEIR: And on this former navy bombing range turned sleepy paradise were glow in the dark plankton.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.
WEIR: Draws tourists from around the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So beautiful, man.
WEIR: We found that near 200-mile-an-hour winds had turned just about everything upside down. Planes, boats --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're out of food. We're running out of food and water.
WEIR: -- and thousands of human lives.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We decided the most important thing was to establish communications.
WEIR: Until another angel named Robert Becker (ph) brought in a bag of satellite phones, the island went six days without outside contact.
Oh, my god.
It crushes your soul to watch that and this is the line. This is a two-hour line of folks waiting to give proof of life to a wife or a husband or a father. It's rough.
BRITTANY LUKOWSKY, RESIDENT OF PUERTO RICO: I just need to tell my mom I'm OK. Do you have her number?
WEIR: This is where I first met Brittany, who moved here from Brooklyn a few years ago, and was among those learning that ATMs are worthless when society is broken.
LUKOWSKY: Thank you. I love you, bye.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything's going to be all right. LUKOWSKY: I have no money. They won't let us get money. I can't use my debit card, so we're all screwed.
WEIR: Here's a few bucks.
LUKOWSKY: I don't know what to do.
WEIR: A few bucks.
WEIR: Oh, my god.
A year later.
LUKOWSKY: I'm really glad you got to come back down.
WEIR: She's back because this is home.
LUKOWSKY: I wanted to give this to you, as well.
WEIR: Oh, no, no, no, you keep it.
LUKOWSKY: It was a loan and I appreciate it so very much.
WEIR: Are you sure?
LUKOWSKY: Absolutely. I paid back everyone else who let me borrow money and I wanted to get you, as well.
We went to the states for a few months to kind of recuperate. We spent maybe five months. Why would you go back? Is everything better now? Everything's good there, right? I'm like, no, not everything. It's not that good but, you know, it's home. And when you go through something like that, you definitely feel it with the people around you that everyone is in it together.
WEIR: How would you grade the government response?
LUKOWSKY: Do I have to get political?
LUKOWSKY: I think our local government, there wasn't much of a response. I know the first people that started to come in, I think the Humane Society was here on the island first thing. They were here immediately right about when you guys got here. I think that was the first week.
WEIR: There were the first responders.
LUKOWSKY: They were the first wave in.
WEIR: They came for pets.
LUKOWSKY: Helped animals.
WEIR: They don't realize people need diapers and water.
[23:40:00] LUKOWSKY: Yes.
WEIR: While many of Puerto Rico's resorts are open and eager for business, the W Hotel Vieques, once one of the nicest in the Caribbean, is still shattered and deserted. The owners say they want to reopen as soon as possible.
But here, possible is limited. No hospital and unreliable ferry and a lack of real power. With the lines of the main island broken, the only thing keeping the lights on are diesel generators owned by FEMA.
MARK MARTIN BRAS, VIEQUES CONSERVATION AND HISTORICAL TRUST: We are powered by diesel which is oil, which is burning, which is not efficient, which is contaminating.
BRAS: Extremely expensive. We're talking half a million a month and things like that just for --
WEIR: Just for this.
BRAS: Yeah. So, they're not reliable. But on top of that, if our supply chain which is a maritime ferry gets caught up, we have no fuel again.
WEIR: After TESLA set up a small solar project here, there is hope that the U.S. will spend the millions to replace these generators with a smart grid powered by renewable energy.
BRAS: I think the electric company of Puerto Rico has a chance to go that route and then replicate that in other municipalities in Puerto Rico. I think it is also something that could show the world, OK, it's -- we have to start looking at how we live completely different.
WEIR: But those are grand hopes in a place where so much still depends on the kindness of neighbors.
Steven, you want to give this a shot?
WEIR: Since he was your angel pilot, this would be fitting.
WEIR: When Steven was using his plane to ferry pregnant women to doctor visits, he met Staff Sergeant Aurita Maldonado, a Pennsylvania native who earned a purple heart fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and moved to Vieques to become a dance instructor. But now most days she heads into town with her partner, Alex, to find fresh water and then rumble back up to their little hillside farm. They have horses, a jerry-rigged fan for little David. And after Maria washed away their home, not much else.
When we came back, you know, a year after to check in and see sort of the state of folks and how they're holding up, and here we find a decorated combat veteran with a brand-new baby living in a tent.
AURITA MALDONADO, PURPLE HEART AND DISABLED VETERAN: Yep.
WEIR: That sort of speaks volumes, huh?
MALDONADO: It's an interesting position to be in right now.
WEIR: And how do you grade the American response to this tragedy on this island?
MALDONADO: Oh, that's a tough one. Geez, let's see. Facebook response was great I'm sure. Like a lot of people cared, right? Yeah, I would grade it pretty poorly. Yeah, it was not a very good -- definitely wasn't Houston.
WEIR: Are you trying to get help from FEMA or through the VA?
MALDONADO: I did attempt the VA. At first, an individual came forward and said, hey, look, OK, we got you. You're totally taken care of. We're going to help you out. There's an organization helping you and then they invited me to a meeting. And one pulled me aside and said, hey, check it out. We can't get you a house, but we can give you this gift card.
WEIR: This is a house in progress.
MALDONADO: This is a house in progress.
WEIR: And Alex is doing it all by himself.
MALDONADO: Alex is doing this all by himself. Day by day, bit by bit.
WEIR: If there are any angels with brick laying experience watching, they could definitely use a hand, because they wake every day and worry about the weather in ways we can't imagine.
What happens during this hurricane season? Is this all you have, this tent pretty much?
MALDONADO: Yeah. If that tent goes away, we're back at square one. If that thing goes away, the things inside of it are what I have.
WEIR: That's everything you own.
MALDONADO: Yep, yep.
WEIR: But they are just one family among thousands from the island to the mainland with no safe place to call home. Which leads to another kind of slow motion disaster we've uncovered here. One that is hard to see, but will be felt for a generation.
[23:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WEIR: It's been quite a year since I first met Diana Aponte (ph).
Her little hilltop home in Aguas Buenas was my very first stop after the storm. Her street lush and tidy now, was brown and broken when we arrived. She showed us video of the neighbor's motor home being tossed like a toy. And I met her husband, 75-year-old combat vet named Miguel.
Which is scarier, combat in Vietnam or Hurricane Maria?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hurricane was worse.
WEIR: They were down to his last vial of insulin, spoiling in a powerless fridge, and they were worried.
Wow, that's a good sign. Look at that. They've got it back up.
But a month later, a happy twist.
You remember me?
WEIR: The veterans administration saw our story. Sent plenty of medicine. And Diana (ph) was excited by the PREPA crew raising that fallen tower topped with the Puerto Rican flag. But on this visit, while her kind warmth remains, the love of her life is gone.
Two months after the storm, on their 50th wedding anniversary, Miguel passed away. She talks to his picture every day. And is so grateful for the respect shown by fellow veterans. But then she makes me coffee, and I ask her about President Trump.
[23:50:00] WEIR: What did you think? He just tweeted today. The president said that 3,000 didn't die, that politicians made it up to make him look bad.
There's something evil in him, she says. People are still dying as a consequence of Maria. How could he doubt that so many died? It's there. Everybody knows it. As I suffer, many other families are still suffering here. You can't compare him with a human being, she says. He's heartless, he's worthless. Diana (ph) is just one example of an island in mourning.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How many of you think about Hurricane Maria every day?
WEIR: A survey of 60,000 public school kids found rates of depression among the Maria generation are twice as high as normal. Suicide attempts jumped 50 percent this year. And calls to one one national suicide hotline tripled over the year before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNTRANSLATED). SANTIAGO: So, he says in one eight-hour shift, he will take a call like that 30, 40 times.
WEIR: So, it's no surprise that hundreds of thousands have simply left. And among that exodus, there's a mom named Vimarie.
VIMARIE CARDONA, PUERTO RICAN EVACUEE: It's overwhelming.
WEIR: She brought her two youngest kids to Orlando, where FEMA helped her with a motel room. Her nursing degree gave her hope she will find a good enough job to get her own place, but Florida wouldn't honor her credentials. So she cleans rooms at a famous resort.
CARDONA: Florida Board of Nursing told me I needed an English competency test. Because I studied in Puerto Rico.
WEIR: And after months of scraping by, she learns that FEMA's help has run out and worries her and her kids would end up on the street.
CARDONA: At this point, I'm, like, where? I don't even know.
JOSE RODRIGUEZ, CHRIST THE KING EPISCOPAL CHURCH: These families are at a breaking point. Katrina families received 24 months of federal assistance. And they had programming activated to get them out of hotels, out of temporary housing into permanent housing situations.
WEIR: You got a lot of folks living in hotel rooms in Orlando, that's expiring this week. What happens to them? Who is responsible for those folks?
HERNANDEZ: The governor is the only one that can the president for declaration request. And that declaration was given for Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico. So I have (INAUDIBLE).
WEIR: Yes, Vimarie is an American citizen, being told that FEMA will help her, but only if she goes back to the disaster zone.
RODRIGUEZ: They're being seen as immigrants. You don't immigrate from one state to another. You know, you don't immigrate from New York to Orlando. You move from New York to Orlando. You move from San Juan to Orlando.
WEIR: She's grateful to folks like Father Jose and the Hispanic federation for giving $45,000 to 45 families so they can afford to stay just a bit longer. But she's also deeply frustrated with her country.
CARDONA: It's funny, being in Florida, I've been amazed. I've never seen it face to face. They've actually asked me, so you guys are Americans? And then you're being treated like you're something else. It's wow. I get goose bumps. I do. I get goose bumps when I got asked that question for the first time.
RICARDO ROSSELLO, GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO: In terms of the response, in terms of the unnecessary bureaucracy, in terms of the lack of urgency, for example, that the corps of engineers exhibited, it is my view that being a colonial territory and being second-class citizens play a huge role.
WEIR: I've been joking with gallows humor after watching the president's tweets that if China came along and said, hey, we'll buy Puerto Rico, he will probably say yes and throw in Guam or something.
ROSSELLO: But you know what's the worst part of it?
[23:55:00] That could actually happen. The truth of the matter is, we are a possession of the United States, and they can do with their possessions essentially what they would want.
WEIR: What gives you the most hope?
ROSSELLO: What gives me hope? The thing that I'm proudest of is that the world got to see the heart, resiliency, and strength of the people of Puerto Rico. It is because of the will, that the people of Puerto Rico have capacity to fight and holding hope to rebuild for a better future.
That just tells me that if we do this rebuild the right way, you're going to see a very different, very positive Puerto Rico here and it's going to be a model all around the world.
WEIR: Few things reveal a society's values like a disaster. They provide a stress test of a nation's strength, smarts, and how we count the dead and measure the costs. Shapes the way we brace for the next big, bad day.
And while some in power say there are no lessons to be learned, there are millions in Puerto Rico tonight hoping their countrymen feel differently. They're hoping you'll come down and see how hard they're fighting, and how far they've come. That you'll soak up the beauty, share a few good meals, and prove that when things get bad, Americans stick together.
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