Story and photos by Elsie Stormberg
Hidden within the mountains of Lares, Puerto Rico, was a tiny, dilapidated shack along a sharp turn in the road. Within this broken-down home was a man, one who was all alone. He was all alone for Hurricane María, which destroyed the island on Sept. 20, 2017.
Julian Hidalgo sat in a white plastic lawn chair on his porch and watched as cars flew by with music blaring, their passengers completely unaware of his life.
Before María, Julian said no one ever stopped by. He was alone.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Julian immigrated to Puerto Rico in the late 1980s to find a new life. He found a wife, but they never had children. Seven years ago, she died from diabetes — he has been alone since.
“Well, I stayed here [after she died] where I live, alone,” Julian said. “And it’s not that I want to be alone but in the situation that I’m living I find myself to be more comfortable because I’m better off just like that. But I miss her a lot, I miss my wife a lot.”
In the months since María, Julian received at least three or four stops a day from aid workers armed with tents, tarps, water, light fixtures, canned foods and instant meals.
The hurricane left millions like Julian in a similar manner.
Aixa Tolentino is an aid worker who provided supplies and emotional support to Julian. Tolentino, an organic farmer in Lares, has helped in the town, providing support after Hurricane María.
“Julian is just one more person on this island that the social needs that are tended to are bad,” Tolentino said. “I cannot say he’s going to be great because we need to change our system; we need to change the way we distribute our resources; we need to change the way we administer our resources to be able to help the people in need.”
Tolentino said Hurricane María unearthed an abundance of issues within the disaster aid system and hope in the future, there will be other options for people like Julian.
“He’s going to be okay because he has a community and people who care for him,” she said, “but still we need to work with our system in order to really help Julian and all the Julians that we have around the island.”