Puerto Rico still hurting after hurricanes

Diane Fleher and her husband knew Puerto Rico would be the perfect place to spend their retirement.

“Puerto Rico for us has been like a dream come true,” says Fleher, who moved to Las Piedras, Puerto Rico six years ago. “Las Piedras is known as the artisan city.”

The South Carolina native had lived through hurricanes before but she says Hurricane Maria was very different.

“The destruction was unparalleled of anything I have ever seen," she says. "The fear, the stories, everybody was just kind of walking around in a zombie-like state once everybody got out of their driveways.”

Fleher says the recovery process has forced her and her husband to live in “a new reality.” She says the price of produce in groceries stores has skyrocketed. Also, cell service and news is difficult to come by.

She says finding clean water is a daily struggle. And once spent four full days searching for water in four different cities.

“The reason that canned goods and MRE’s and water still needs to be sent is because you have people that they don’t have refrigeration, so they literally have to go out and search for food every day,” she explains.

Fleher does not think she will have power for another five to seven months. She and her husband are fortunate to have a generator, which is expensive to run. “You basically cannot find a generator for sale on the island,” she explains.

“A lot of people got generators as gifts and such but what a lot of people don’t realize is that if you do not have the money to buy the gasoline to run the generator, it isn’t that helpful,” she says.

She has noticed many people leave the island to look for jobs in the continental U.S., she says.

“The loss of jobs has been so tremendous and I think it’s one of the hardest things on people, especially men who are the caretakers for most of their families," she says. "Because they have lost their jobs and have no idea when they will have a job, they feel defeated."

To help fight the overall feeling of despair, Fleher and her husband have an idea.

“The purpose of the sawmill initiative would be to procure a portable sawmill that we could put up on our eight acres of land to start with, it would be powered by a generator," she explains. "My husband used to live in Reno, Nevada and worked in construction, so he thought, if we get a portable sawmill, we can use our downed trees, there are plenty of them. He wants to teach several men how to mill planks of wood and then they would teach several and so on and so on.“

Fleher hopes her community can use the planks of wood to start rebuilding their homes.

“The fact that it’s going to be a portable sawmill and a grassroots effort, you are not going to have to cut through all of that red tape,” she continues.

If you'd like to help, here's a link to her GoFundMe page. She looks forward to spending the rest of her life in Puerto Rico and helping her community.