Hurricane Maria, The Forgotten Storm

On September 20, 2017, while Houston was busy dealing with the devastating effects of Harvey, Puerto Rico was hit by one of the worst hurricanes the island has ever witnessed.

Hurricane Maria, a major Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph slammed onto Puerto Rico's shores in the middle of a very active Atlantic hurricane season.

"I thought that God don't exist," says Juila Gomez. "That we was alone." Gomez lives in the small town of Yabucoa. She's lived there for more than 60 years.

"I don't want to see that monster again," says Gomez referring to Maria. "Nope. Nope."

Gomez riding out the hurricane in her small, concrete constructed home. 

"In that moment, I feel like it was the end," says Gomez.

The initial help, Gomez says, was hard to find.

"This was the last, last, last place that being help," says Gomez.

Yabucoa is situated along the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico. The town felt the full force of Maria before the hurricane weakened as it traversed the island.

"They're immediately like, 'it's terrible, it's the worst thing that happened,'" said Emily Alfred who is currently serving as the Yabucoa Project Manager for All Hands and Hearts. The mission of All Hands and Hearts is to address the immediate and long-term needs of communities affected by natural disasters.

Alfred's team continues working in Yabucoa to this day. 

"There's so many homes that are still damaged. There's so many homes that are still leaking," says Alfred. 

Yabucoa's Mayor Rafael Surillo says restoring power was the biggest challenge for his town, after all Maria is blamed for causing the world's second largest blackout.

And then there was the death toll which, according to Puerto Rican officials, reached 2,975.

"We estimate that over 50 people died in Yabucoa and the government, I do not know why, tried to hide it," says Mayor Surillo.

"We're gonna make it. It's going to take us a little while, but we're gonna make it," says San Juan's Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

Mayor Cruz says 60,000 families across the island are still living under blue tarps without a safe place to call home.

"Thank you to everybody in Houston because while we were going through our situation here, you had just gone through Harvey and people in Houston managed to send help to San Juan and send help to Puerto Rico," says Mayor Cruz.

Back in Yabucoa, Gomez says it was eight months before the water was turned back on at her house. Street lights remain off on her road, but restored in Julia is her faith and a reason to carry on.

"I don't want no more hurricane, okay, but I have to wake up, continue because I am alive," says Gomez.

Alive and not alone — two blessings that now have a deeper meaning than ever before for Gomez and her community of Yabucoa.