Hurricane pushes long-suffering Puerto Rico to the edge

Even before the storm, Puerto Rico was in dire condition, reeling from a decade-long economic slide deeper than the Great Recession on the mainland. Now, nearly all 3.4 million people on the island are sitting in the dark amid widespread pessimism about the future of this tropical U.S. territory.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A tired and discouraged Rosa Maria Almonte cleaned steel pots with bleach inside her darkened cafe as her daughter cooked up rice, beans and pork chops on a gas stove to feed people desperate for a hot meal in their storm-ravaged city.

She has run El Buen Cafe for 21 years and seen some tough times, but the damage from Hurricane Maria, with no running water, no electricity and the prospect of a grinding recovery that could take weeks or months, had her wondering whether there was any point in staying.

“I don’t know if I can keep going,” the 73-year-old cafe owner said Friday after mopping up water that seeped into her shop, the awning sitting in a heap on her counter. “What am I doing here?”

It’s a lament echoing across Puerto Rico at the moment.

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Even before the storm, Puerto Rico was in dire condition, reeling from a decade-long economic slide that was far deeper than the Great Recession on the mainland and that many here feel was largely ignored by Washington. Now, nearly all 3.4 million people on the island are sitting in the dark amid widespread pessimism about the future of this tropical U.S. territory and whether they should expect much help.

Along streets strewn with tree limbs, downed power lines and muck, it’s easy to find Puerto Ricans trying to decide if they should pick up and leave, joining the 450,000 who have moved to the mainland over the past decade in search of a better life.

“This is an absolute crisis,” 44-year-old Alana Yendez said as she cradled her 2-month-old grandson and gave him a bottle of scarce baby formula in the Santurce section of San Juan. “This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other.”

Maria, the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century, unleashed floods and mudslides and knocked out the entire electrical grid and telecommunications, leaving many mainland families anxiously awaiting word on relatives in Puerto Rico.

Authorities confirmed at least six deaths but were still assessing the damage and trying to reach communities cut off by the…

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