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Hurricane Maria: How the people of one Puerto Rican village survived the storm's fury

By Washington bureau chief Zoe Daniel, Saturday September 30, 2017 - 14:31 EST
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Gilberto Del Moral's house literally fell down on his head. - ABC

In south-eastern Puerto Rico it was the little village of Los Bajos that took the brunt of .

Los Bajos literally means low lying and it was almost swallowed by the Caribbean when of several metres and 250 kilometre per hour winds.

But the village of around 2,000 people is a place of amazing escapes.

House after house has lost its roof. Some are more severely damaged.

But the people have stories of survival to tell.

Omayra Rodriguez's disabled sister Maria was evacuated just ahead of the hurricane.

Today, her bedroom has no roof.

Luis Tirado, 17, was in his bed across the street when the storm hit.

The roof peeled off and he fled inside, cowering in the bathroom with his three-year-old twin cousins and his 74-year-old grandfather. All survived unscathed.

Up the road, his friend Nathaniel Aguirre was trying to calm his panicked grandma when the sea surged several metres up to the back of their house.

They fled to a neighbour's house. His precious horse, although terrified, also made it through.

Neighbours peered out their windows in horror when Gilberto Del Moral's house totally collapsed with him inside.

Having made the decision to stay in his home, by the time the 67-year-old decided to flee, it was too late.

The storm was already there and the house then literally fell down on his head.

He was buried under the debris for about 13 hours, until his neighbours were able to venture outside to rescue him.

They used a broken piece of kitchen bench as a makeshift stretcher to carry him out of the wreckage.

Incredibly, apart from a bump on the head and a few scratches, Gilberto is fine.

Now, staying in a shelter, he wants to rebuild his home.

It's emblematic of the attitude of many Puerto Ricans who want to quickly recover and rebuild — but they're struggling with no electricity and a dramatic fuel shortage, which is limiting progress.

While state and federal authorities have declared it will take up to six months to restore power across the island, local governments fear it could be up to a year before small places like Los Bajos are back on the grid.


© ABC 2017

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