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With Power Finally Restored, 'Christmas Has Arrived!' For Puerto Rican Couple

Irma Rivera Aviles and Ivan Martínez finally got power back in their home in Cataño last Friday afternoon.

"Christmas has arrived!" Rivera Aviles said ecstatically on Monday.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, causing Rivera Aviles and Martínez to evacuate to a shelter for more than a week. When they returned to their home in a section of Cataño called El Pueblito, they found it badly damaged, as the storm had blown off part of the roof.

The hurricane also knocked out power on the entire island, causing Rivera Aviles to feel unsafe in this neighborhood, where she grew up. But on Friday, all that changed. Now, she feels "safe, secure."

In Cataño, people mark the start of the holiday season on the first Friday of December. This year residents celebrated that as well as the return of power to most of the neighborhood. On Friday evening, residents gathered at the waterfront outside City Hall in Cataño to cheer and sing holiday songs.

"I felt this intense happiness," Rivera Aviles said, her voice trembling. "I can't find the words to describe it."

For her, seeing the lights back on at Nuestra Señora Del Carmen Church was the best Christmas gift ever. There are a few neighborhoods in Cataño, including Vietnam and Puntillas, that are still without power, and the priest said those still in need could come to the church and charge their cellphones or iron their clothes, Rivera Aviles said.

Luckily, their home appliances are working, and for the first time in more than two months the couple watched the news on TV at home. They went grocery shopping and cooked breakfast in their kitchen on Saturday morning — scrambled eggs with ham and pancakes.

"I felt alive again," Rivera Aviles said.

But the most important thing, she said? No need to look for ice to chill Martínez's insulin. They can make the ice they need in their freezer.

Though power is restored, Rivera Aviles and Martínez still need to fix the roof before they can move back in. "Life is coming back," she said, "but it will never be the same."

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Marisa Peñaloza is a senior producer on NPR's National Desk. Peñaloza's productions are among the signature pieces heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as weekend shows. Her work has covered a wide array of topics — from breaking news to feature stories, as well as investigative reports.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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