Adrian Florido

The leadership of Puerto Rico's troubled electric utility — PREPA — crumbled on Thursday, as a majority of its board of directors, including its newly named CEO, resigned rather than submit to demands by the island's governor that the new CEO's salary be reduced.

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Luis Vázquez walked up to the elegant marble plaza in front of Puerto Rico's capitol building, bent over, and took off his shoes. He placed them among more than 400 other pairs that over several hours on Friday began forming a growing memorial to the hundreds, possibly thousands of people believed to have died as a direct or indirect result of Hurricane Maria, but whom Puerto Rico's government has yet to count.

Vázquez said his father was one of them.

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All right, let's get some reaction now from Puerto Rico, which is where we find our colleague, NPR's Adrian Florido. Hey, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

For more than a week, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress has been urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend the contract under which mainland power crews have been helping repair the island's power grid.

Standing at a lectern before reporters Thursday, Carlos Acevedo, the head of Puerto Rico's emergency management agency, made an admission. Before Hurricane Maria, he said, the island's government did not take updates to its hurricane response plans seriously.

"Before Maria, updating our plans was very easy," Acevedo said. "We would take the first and last pages, remove them, replace them with new pages, sign them, and there was the new plan."

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Updated 5:58 p.m. ET

The last of the federal government's power restoration crews are scheduled to leave Puerto Rico when their contract expires next week, leaving the island's power utility with the task of energizing the last 1.5 percent of customers still waiting eight months after Hurricane Maria.

But on Wednesday, the island's representative in Congress asked the federal government not to send its crews home.

As Puerto Rico continues its recovery from Hurricane Maria, officials on the island are preparing for billions of dollars in federal reconstruction aid that will begin flowing in the coming months.

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In the mountainous regions of Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of residents are still waiting for the lights to come back on. Why is power restoration for the last 2 percent of people taking so long?

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One tree was all it took. Around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, a wayward trunk tumbled over onto a major transmission line in Puerto Rico's still-fragile electrical grid and cut power to roughly 840,000 customers, affecting more than half of the island's population.

For months, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello has been struggling to get the U.S. Treasury to release $4.7 billion in disaster recovery loans that the U.S. Congress approved in October, weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island commonwealth. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had delayed releasing the loans because of disagreement over the terms of repayment.

On Thursday, the two men said they had reached a deal to allow the funds to start flowing.

José López doesn't have a deed for the little house at the edge of a dairy farm where he was raised and still lives — only the stories his grandfather told him about how the house came to be.

It began with an agreement between gentlemen 39 years ago. His grandfather, a foreman on the farm, needed a house for his recently divorced daughter, López's mother. So he asked the farm's owner if he could have a little corner of the sprawling estate to build her one.

"My grandfather worked on the farm for 44 years," López said, "and his boss was a good man. He said yes."

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Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico's education secretary, stood in front of a school library full of high school students and asked them to do something students in Puerto Rico's public schools aren't often asked.

"Take out your phones," she said. "Look up the definition of charter school."

A girl's hand shot up.

"A charter school," the girl read, "is a school that receives government funding but operates independently of the established state school system in which it is located."

Before Valentine's Day, love is in the air. But sometimes, love hurts. It's a harsh reality that many Mexicans deal with by listening to rancheras, traditional songs from Mexico's countryside that you can put on when you need a good cry. One young woman found a connection to her ancestors through the sounds of guitars and tears.

A longer version of this story originally aired on NPR's Latino USA.

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Updated 12:46 p.m. ET

A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that the agency's plan to end its distribution of emergency food and water in Puerto Rico and turn that responsibility over to the Puerto Rican government would not take effect on Jan. 31.

In the days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, residents of some of the hardest hit rural areas found themselves stranded — cut off from more populated areas by mudslides, crumbled roads and bridges, and toppled trees and power lines. In those early days, the only food and water many of these communities received arrived by helicopter, sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Four months after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, nearly 40 percent of the island's electricity customers remain without power.

Rosa Cruz and her husband, Luis Felipe Colón, both retired, are among them. They've eaten mostly canned food and prayed that Rosa doesn't have an asthma attack, because they can't plug in her nebulizer.

Their little house in a rural part of western Puerto Rico sits on a hillside. From their porch, they look down on the town of San Sebastián.

"When there was no electricity," Colón says, "it looked really beautiful at sunset."

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked the Justice Department to investigate the island's public electric utility after federal agents said they found large quantities of critical rebuilding materials stored in a warehouse owned by the public company.


Valery Pozo still gets angry thinking about it. It was about a decade ago, and the immigrant communities in her hometown, Salt Lake City, were on edge because of recent immigration enforcement raids in the area. Pozo's mother, an immigrant from Peru, was on the sidelines at her son's soccer game when another parent asked whether she was "illegal."

"To me, that was clearly a racist question and a racist assumption," Pozo recalled.

But her mother saw it as a harmless comment, despite Pozo's best efforts to convince her that it was something bigger.

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