Before Hurricane Maria came roaring through Toa Alta, Miguel Szendrey-Ramos’ 38-acre farm was filled with vegetation. Now, it’s barren.
The trees that used to line his property have been decimated, exposing rows of buildings that he didn’t previously know were there.
“I know my neighbors now,” he laughs.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, the strongest storm to hit the island in a century. At least 34 died and almost all 3.4 million citizens were left without power and water.
The Category 4 storm destroyed an estimated 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s crops, according to Puerto Rico’s agriculture secretary, Carlos Flores Ortega.
While most of the island's food is imported, the agricultural sector had become a source of growth at a time when Puerto Rico is grappling with a massive debt crisis and painful recession.
But now, farmers like Szendrey-Ramos are desperately trying to salvage their flooded fields without delaying production.
“For the next 45 days, I won’t have any production,” Szendrey-Ramos explained.
Szendrey-Ramos grows ají dulce, a small sweet pepper similar to habaneros. Hurricane Maria’s high-impact winds mostly eliminated this crop.
Szendrey-Ramos’s dragon fruit took an even harder hit. All 12 varieties of the crop were destroyed in the storm, setting his production back six to nine months.
“I have to do everything that I can do save that crop,” he said. “Right now, I know I’m not going to have any profits. I’ll survive as I can.”
Szendrey-Ramos says that compared to some farmers he fared okay.
“I’m a lucky person,” Szendrey-Ramos said. “I think about a lot of people that are in the mountains … over there, there are a lot of people that are doing really bad.”
For more of Circa's coverage of Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Maria:
No roofs, no relief and constant rain: rebuilding Puerto Rico's isolated mountain towns
After 2 weeks without power in Puerto Rico, eating candy for dinner is the new norm