The Puerto Rican community of Toro Negro is located in the central, mountainous municipality of Ciales. The isolation and privacy of this small community has been cherished by its residents for over 100 years. It was in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, however, that the remote nature of the community proved to be a challenge.
Its seclusion—the closest town is a 35-minute drive—reduced access to basic services such as garbage pickup and mail delivery. As the hurricane’s aftermath worsened, the limited basic services created pollution and raised public health concerns.
The 32-household community quickly realized they needed to become more self-sufficient in order to recover from the hurricane. They began to take initiatives to expand infrastructure and minimize dependency on outside services.
Toro Negro installed donated solar panels and battery storage system to generate its own electricity. They rebuilt roads and bridges to improve the basic services they had lacked following the storm. They even made plans to create a community aqueduct.
Another Toro Negro community project that has started to take shape is the “Mapa Madre,” or “Mother Map” in English. This project identifies archaeological sites, garbage collection points and ongoing reforestation efforts in bodies of water that cross the municipalities of Barceloneta, Barranquitas, Ciales, Corozal, Florida, Jayuya, Manatí, Morovis and Orocovis. Once all the information is gathered, the “Mapa Madre” will be the ideal mechanism to develop strategies to protect the area’s watershed.
As of July 5, 2019, FEMA has obligated about $2.5 million through its Public Assistance program to the Municipality of Ciales, where the community of Toro Negro resides. The funds have reimbursed disaster-related expenses for emergency protective measures and debris removal. These emergency protective measures are actions taken to eliminate or lessen immediate threats either to lives, public health or safety, or significant additional damage to public or private property in a cost-effective manner.
While this type of aid is essential to recovery, it is communities like Toro Negro that have proven that disasters like Hurricane Maria are no match for empowered community members.