Forgotten island: Vieques still running entirely on generators more than a year after Maria hit

Last Updated Sep 22, 2018 3:16 PM EDT

It was only last month that Puerto Rico's electric company finally restored power to all customers -- all except those on one part of the commonwealth, the small island of Vieques.

More than a year after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico last September, generators are still supporting Vieques' entire electrical grid. CBS News correspondent David Begnaud visited the area to see how its residents have been faring since the devastating hurricane.

Three times a week since Hurricane Maria struck, Elias Salgado has been among those flown from Vieques to Ceiba. He has to travel to the mainland for his dialysis treatments. The days are long when you add up the travel time and the four hours of treatment. He's lucky, though, because he says a lot of people didn't make it.  

For months, residents of Vieques have been reaching out via social media to tell their stories. They feel as though they've been forgotten. One of the first messages Begnaud got was from a viewer who told him to go see Betty at Vieques Car Rental, who he was told would give him the unvarnished truth about the recovery there.

"My neighbor's husband died and every agency failed to assist them. So we raised money, not only to help them with funeral expenses but also – their house was destroyed – to get tarps up to keep his wife dry," Betty said. "He had heart issues. And I think beyond the fact that there hours was destroyed, the anxiety and lack of getting medication. ... He was only 64."

According to Betty, there was no hospital to take him to. She then introduced him to a man named David Maldonado who says the island's only hospital was shut down after Maria because of mold.

"I haven't seen any leadership since day one," Maldonado said.

He then took Beganud to see Vieques Mayor Victor Emeric.

According to Emeric, Vieques has received $260,000 from FEMA so far, but has spent at least half a million more than that. He said the process of getting aid has been very stringent and slow.

Begnaud called a representative from FEMA, which has already allocated billions of dollars in relief aid, to find out why that is. He was told by the official that the funds from FEMA are handed off to the central government and it becomes their responsibility to distribute it to the municipalities.

Asked if he was aware of that, Emeric told him, "No. You have to wait calmly until the government with their slow bureaucracy takes care of the issue until the money arrives."

From there, Maldonado handed Begnaud off to Mark Martin, who has lived on Vieques for 25 years and co-founded VIeques Love, a non-profit that has raised more than a million dollars in donations.

Over lunch, Martin said that prices for the ferry most people use to get to and from the main island may go up.

"That is literally our road, and they are about to change all the prices and immediately … lower the quality of life by putting higher tariffs on the ferry for the people who live here, coming here and for the suppliers. Everything comes through there," Martin said.

When asked what would be a good way to use the millions that Vieques is going to receive, Martin said, "You have to start with some of the basic things that you don't have, which are health, security, safety, and in our case, transportation becomes an elemental one because it's how a lot of these things happen."

Editor's Note: The headline has been changed to reflect that the island has power from generators.


For more on Puerto Rico in the wake of Maria, watch a full CBSN Originals one-hour special "Puerto Rico: The exodus after Hurricane Maria" on CBSN Sunday, Sept. 23, at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET.