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Machete, origami and reading: life in San Juan a week after Maria

GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico, Oct 1, 2017 (BSS/AFP) - Alejandro Araujo whiles away the day doing jigsaw puzzles. At night, he sleeps on a hammock on the patio, machete at his side.

Now that some streets have been cleared of branches and rubble Hurricane Maria left behind, middle class residents of Puerto Rico's capital San Juan's outskirts are afraid, and straining to keep up hope.

Ten days ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and left the American island of 3.4 million people isolated and without electricity with damage so grave, much of it appeared to have sustained devastating damage to infrastructure and homes.

In San Juan, residents spend their days lining up in sweltering heat to buy ice, fuel, water and scarce food.

In some areas where there is cellular coverage -- sometimes it is in the middle of a road -- you see swarms of residents adjusting telephones in the air to contact loved ones.

Many have not drunk anything cold in ten days. The heat is stifling.

Those who go to work do so mostly because their businesses have generators. Others have to be patient.

In middle-class Guaynabo, outside San Juan, the Araujos -- Alejandro, Juana and their son Xavier -- are just hoping life gets back to normal.

It's not easy to stay on top of the latest developments in a disaster most believe is unprecedented here.

They hear often contradictory news by word of mouth, listen to the radio, and walk instead of driving to save gas. They feel vulnerable because looting was reported on the island just after the hurricane on the morning of September 20.

"As a precaution I sleep outside with the dog, and with a machete in my hand, because I prefer to have something in my hand than to feel helpless," says Alejandro Araujo, a 53-year-old computer expert, in his back yard.

Without electricity home security alarms do not work and neighbors are organized to blow the horn of their car if they see strangers prowling around.


"Obviously the police are very busy on a number of things. There has been less vigilance and the number of people wanting to take advantage of the situation has increased," says Alejandro.

Authorities have not said how many people were arrested after the megastorm. But businesses have told news outlets there was widespread looting, especially right after the storm.

Gas stations, with long lines snaking around and around, are being guarded by police and in many cases armed private guards. "People are getting desperate. I'm not afraid of anyone, but there are other people who are not leaving their homes because of the fear that they will get robbed, or get seriously hurt," said Brian Lafuente, the manager of a gas station in San Juan.

Thursday, Governor Ricardo Rossello said federal officials would be sent in to work alongside local officials to "protect the property, health and safety of all our citizens." He did not say how many.

- "We are privileged" -

Regardless, capital area residents say there are not enough police.

The Araujos feel vulnerable -- and disinclined to venture from their home. She is a psychologist and university professor; he depends on the internet to do his job. Neither one has anything to do.

"This situation has made me come up with projects, such as knitting a sweater. I started to embroider, to do things that were important to me, just to try to drain the anguish of everyday life," says Juana, 59.

With no internet, electricity, telephone or television, everyday life is affected in the smallest things.

For example, the family now goes to sleep at about nine o'clock at night. They spend the afternoon chatting with neighbors.

Alejandro is putting together a puzzle, Juana puts the edge on a curtain and Xavier, 16, spends the day making origami figures. And they read.

"We have food to eat. We have a roof over our heads. Nothing really happened to us, we are privileged that way," says Juana.

But the hurricane still had an impact on everybody here, even the lucky ones.

"I felt like the most insignificant being in the universe. I felt totally insignificant. Microscopic," she added.