Hurricane Maria swept through the Caribbean last fall, slamming into the island of Puerto Rico on September 20. In the small mountain town of Orocovis, 17-year-old Jeancarlos Meléndez watched through the window as his neighborhood transformed from a tropical paradise into what looked like a war zone. Gusty winds roared at more than 100 miles an hour, tearing off roofs and knocking down power lines. And the rain never seemed to stop—nearly 30 inches came down in 48 hours in his region, making it impossible to walk down the street or even open the front door.
When Jeancarlos was finally able to go outside, he stood aghast. He didn’t recognize his hometown. “It was a nightmare,” he says. “The houses, the markets, and the parks were all destroyed. Not a single leaf was left on any tree.” The storm was so mighty that the entire island lost power. No electricity meant there wasn’t clean running water either, since treatment plants couldn’t operate to purify water. People, including Jeancarlos and his family, had to wait in line for safe drinking water, sometimes standing for up to 10 hours in the heat.