Hi, everyone. I’ve been based in San Juan for The Associated Press since 2007, and I’ve been reporting on Hurricane Maria since the days before it made landfall in Puerto Rico – everything from the preparations to the direct impact to the devastating aftermath. I also reported from St. Martin immediately after Hurricane Irma barreled through that island. I welcome your questions about what it’s been like to report on the destruction from these storms and on the people who have been most deeply affected by them. You can also ask me questions about living in a place with no power, little access to food and water and an economy that’s stopped functioning.

Pueden hacerme preguntas en inglés o español.

Here’s my proof: https://twitter.com/danicacoto/status/913555333959815168

And here’s some of our recent coverage of Maria’s aftermath:

AP’s complete Puerto Rico coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/PuertoRico

‘Nothing, nothing.’ Aid lags in hurricane-torn Puerto Rico: https://apnews.com/134576eb8a1b40688fb6bf20aaa0da73

Now even money is running out in hurricane-hit Puerto Rico: https://apnews.com/d98021c8616a451e9eca958638099abd

PHOTOS: Scenes of devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria: https://apnews.com/card/afs:Card:1397830009

AP Explains: The obscure law that slowed aid to Puerto Rico: https://apnews.com/12231dcf418b4835909e025229bf3b69

Raw video: Aid delivered to cities in Puerto Rico: https://apnews.com/16c9c8ceb19843078101a59158ba9429

San Juan mayor in hurricane spotlight after Trump tweets: https://apnews.com/3565eb60e8a84013bd61cecce6e8356e

How to help after the hurricane: https://apnews.com/c5389049193f41618d086872ed9984e4

UPDATE: Thank you all for your questions! Please feel free to stay in touch via Twitter, and I always welcome any news tips: [email protected]. Logging off now. Good afternoon.

Comments: 61 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

almondparfitt7 karma

Hi Maria, what has your reporting process actually been since the hurricane hit -- how are you filing stories etc? Thanks for the work you're doing.

Edit: Sorry, didn't have coffee and I meant "Hi Danica" -- apologies!

danicacoto4 karma

No worries! I'm running on little sleep, so I know the feeling.

danicacoto4 karma

Hi. It's been a challenge to file stories, especially in the first few days. I was evacuated from two hotels whose generators broke down, so it was a bit of a rush that one day to find a signal and file. We also had sat phones, so that made it easier to file once we ventured into towns that were one to two hours away from the capital.

follydude4 karma

Hi Dánica! Thank you for making yourself available and I hope your conditions are improving! We hear most of the reporting from San Juan and the surrounding areas, can you offer of what the efforts are like in places like Patillas to Yabucoa along Route 3 where Maria made landfall?

danicacoto4 karma

Hi! I and several other AP staffers visited towns including Humacao and Yabucao in the southeast, where Maria first hit. Aid has been slow in reaching those places. Many people I spoke with in those towns, along with people in mountain towns such as Aibonito, had not seen any kind of aid, and many asked for food and water, noting that they were running low on supplies. Some were rationing their food, saying that they weren't sure when exactly they would receive help. Most roads have been cleared across the island, but small communities in towns like Utuado are really struggling because roads and bridges have been completely washed out. Federal officials say they are dropping supplies by air until they can reach them by land.

treesofgreenredroses4 karma

There is a huge disparity between what the government and people on the ground are saying about the response. What is really going on?

Last I heard, the problems are lack of gas and coordination problems.

Geraldo was down there and said things didn't seem as bad as we're being told.

danicacoto8 karma

The bottleneck of aid supplies was bad at first. One official I spoke with said that part of the problem was a lack of certified truck drivers and trucks. He said many of them were still at home tending to personal disasters after the hurricane, and that some of the trucks were damaged. The aid has started flowing, but some in hard-to-reach areas say they haven't received any food or water yet. More than 2,400 containers have been transported to distribution centers in recent days, with more than 2 million meals and 2 million liters of water distributed. But people say more help is needed.

BtmnDetroitDeserves2 karma

Would military vehicles be better equipped to distribute goods to the hard-to-reach areas? Are there military vehicles doing that now? Thank you for spending so much time giving us information!

danicacoto6 karma

Thanks for your questions! Puerto Rico's National Guard has been using its vehicles to distribute food, water and other supplies in hard-to-reach areas such as the island's central mountain towns. However, officials have been forced to drop supplies by air in some areas as crews work to restore some kind of land connection. Bridges and roads have been washed out in some villages, so helicopters at this point is the only option to quickly deliver goods.

withoutcake3 karma

Being on an island, where do Puerto Ricans seek refuge? Millions of Floridians relocated within and out of state in the days preceeding Irma. I'm based in a large midwestern city, and even I noticed FL liscense plates much more frequently. I assume that flying wasn't an option for everyone in Puerto Rico, much less driving to safety.

danicacoto6 karma

Many decided to stay with friends or relatives who had sturdy, concrete homes with hurricane shutters. More than 11,000 Puerto Ricans, however (including more than 400 pets), opted to stay at shelters across the island. The majority of these shelters are schools and coliseums, but even then it's not guaranteed that they'll withstand a Category 4 hurricane without any damage. The largest shelter in San Juan, the Roberto Clemente coliseum, had some flooding damage, forcing officials to move people to the second floor. Those who could afford it flew out ahead of the storm.

Duke_Paul3 karma

Hi Dánica, thanks for taking the time to do an AMA...although I'm not sure if you're using signal/wifi or what you're using to connect with us. Regardless, I'm glad you're safe.

I have a couple of questions: First, what are the most important things in the immediate aftermath of a crisis like this? I don't mean like food and water, I'm wondering about the intangibles like strong leadership, a healthy community, or a giving external populace, or what? Sorry for the ambiguous, open-ended question. Secondly, what is the most inspiring thing you have seen in the past days and weeks?

Thanks again and good luck!

danicacoto5 karma

Thank you! I'm using the wifi at a hotel to communicate with you guys. And it's a good question. I think it's important to have a community with resourceful people who are willing to help each other and sacrifice a little of what they have. I've seen this play out across the island since the hurricane. There's been so many inspiring things: a man stopping traffic while crews cleared a road danced as he directed cars with a small red flag. Whenever someone beeped at him in support, he danced harder. Also, neighbors cobbling together clothes, food and water for others who had lost everything. One man taking a sip of water from a bottle and sharing half of it with another man as they set up a tent on top of a home whose second floor flew away in the hurricane. People handing out apple juice and little packets of cookies to strangers waiting in five- to six-hour lines at gas stations.

115isthegoal3 karma

A woman claiming to work for a police department in Puerto Rico went on a radio show claiming that many resources are being withheld because of bureaucratic red tape. Can you comment on this? Has there been any indication that resources are being mismanaged? Also, how are US efforts going down there? Here in the states, there seems to be a sentiment that President Trump is not doing enough but what is actually being done by the federal government down there? Thanks. Stay safe.

danicacoto7 karma

As with any disaster of this magnitude, it's inevitable that some resources will end up being mismanaged. And we'll be writing about that as well. The US government has ramped up its aid in recent days, but many especially in hard-to-reach areas say they have not received any food or water. The government has set up roughly a dozen distribution points across the island to hand out MREs and bottles of water, and the municipalities themselves are doing the same at schools and coliseums. But some people I spoke with said they had no way of reaching these places because they didn't have a car, or they were running low on gas and needed to wait in line for up to six hours. There are thousands of federal officials here involved in hurricane recovery efforts, and so far they have distributed more than 2 million meals and more than 2 million liters of water.

dimplejuice3 karma

Are you hearing from Puerto Ricans who have decided this is the final straw and they are moving to mainland US?

danicacoto5 karma

Yes. Many of the hurricane victims I interviewed said they would move to the U.S., if only for a couple of months until power is restored in Puerto Rico. The majority of those who have left often did it for their kids, enrolling them in schools in cities from Orlando all the way to Boston. Puerto Rico took a very hard hit from Hurricane Maria, and many on the island don't think they'll wait to find out when basic services will return to normal. Only about 5 percent have power and nearly 50 percent have water. Officials have said they expect power to be restored to the entire island before March. Schools have not reopened, and thousands of businesses remain closed. Families are running out of money because many have temporarily or permanently lost their jobs, and they're seeking to move and secure their next paycheck.


Have you chosen a favorite MRE yet? Have Skittles become currency?

danicacoto9 karma

Ha! More like the famous "salchichas" that everyone keeps joking about. Prior to the storm, Puerto Ricans stocked up on canned food including sausages (salchichas), tuna, beans, etc. Personally, I stocked up on canned raviolis and spaghetti and meatballs, which I was already tired of given the previous coverage of Hurricane Irma. The other day I ran into my 89-year-old neighbor. She said she wasn't eating a lot and I gave her several cans of tuna and told her she needed to eat more protein. She asked me how she was supposed to eat the tuna. I said, 'well, the only option is straight out fo the can for now.'

treesofgreenredroses2 karma

Also, can you tell us stories of how people are helping each other?

danicacoto9 karma

There's so many! People who live near gas stations have been handing out apple juice, sandwiches made with ham spread and little packets of cookies to those waiting and sweating in their cars for five to six hours. One remarkable story is a man who lives in the central town of Morovis who made a makeshift raft with a plastic pallet buoyed by empty soda bottles attached to the bottom. He helped dozens of people carry goods across roughly 100 meters of river near their isolated community. One man who had stood in line for gas for about four hours gave his gas can to a mother with a small child.

treesofgreenredroses4 karma

How are the elderly doing? I'm horrified by the idea of bedbound seniors in a hot climate without a/c not getting what they need and maybe needing oxygen.

Are hospitals functional?

danicacoto6 karma

Most of the island's hospitals are functional, but many are at capacity, so the government has set up what it called "super shelters" to help elderly people on oxygen and others who don't necessarily require hospitalization but still need some degree of medical attention. These "super shelters" are located in schools and coliseums across the island, and they are staffed by both local and federal medical officials.

minotaur782 karma

As a general question, what's it like working for the AP, an organization that's historically been a widely trusted name in news? Has anything changed in how you cover stories with both the rise of Trump and the broader distrust of mainstream media outlets?

danicacoto3 karma

The AP has continued to operate as it always has, filing timely, accurate and in-depth stories based on verified information. Working for the AP has helped me obtain interviews with highly sought after officials because of the news organization's reputation. This, in turn, helps the AP provide essential stories that dispel rumors and dismantle claims made by officials.

trishyoung0122 karma

Hi Danica, I have a very close friend/family member in Aguadilla. There hasn't hardly been any news coming from the Western side of the Island. Do you know what it is like there? Can you tell us anything about it?

danicacoto4 karma

Hi, the roads to Aguadilla are clear, and the governor has said that the northwest part of the island was harder hit than most other areas, in part because of the amount of rainfall that fell in a short period. Supplies are reaching certain communities there, but there are many damaged homes made out of wood, and widespread flooding.

cracklovelove2 karma

Are the roads cleared yet? Is transportation possible, or are they still trying to cut their way out in most of the country?

danicacoto2 karma

Most roads have been cleared across Puerto Rico, but a handful of communities such as those in Utuado and Jayuya are receiving federal supplies by air as crews try to restore some kind of connection via land. But many are not waiting for that. Dozens are crossing rivers to reach other nearby towns that have gas, food and water, and then wading across again to their damaged homes.

[deleted]1 karma


danicacoto1 karma

I'm sorry to hear that. Does anyone live near her who could check on her and possibly accompany her to the airport? Any neighbors or friends?

[deleted]1 karma


danicacoto2 karma

Where does she live? If it's in an accessible area close to San Juan, might be easy for police to swing by. If not, you can still call police and ask if the National Guard or someone else can check on her.

grenudist1 karma

How are things on Culebra?

danicacoto2 karma

The hurricane did not cause great damage to its airports and ports, and the island still had food, water and other supplies left over from Hurricane Irma, so the mayor has said it's not as in bad a shape as many thought it would be. Culebra also has its own electric plant, given the island's tiny size, so it's been operating as long as diesel supply is guaranteed. However, several homes were damaged by both hurricanes, and communication has been extremely difficult with the mainland since majority of phones (including the mayor's sat phone) have not been working.

forava71 karma

what is the first thing you can vividly recall from your first impressions of the aftermath?

danicacoto1 karma

Great question. It was the sight of a usually very busy main highway here in Puerto Rico devoid of all traffic, with posts fallen over it and a large amount of flooding. There was no one around except for one fire truck, and it was just a very eerie scene. Felt like you were alone on the island. The worst of the winds had died down, but there were still very strong gusts, and it was just me and the firefighters and no one else. I hate to use a cliche, but it was like a mini-apocalyptic scene. Just no one around and all these branches, and wires and trees fallen everywhere under dark skies.

thimkerbell1 karma

How are the isolated communities being communicated with? Is radio still working, and being received? Is there a standard way for such a community to communicate back?

danicacoto1 karma

The governor distributed satellite phones to the mayors of all 78 municipalities, along with those in the neighboring islands of Culebra and Vieques. However, the phones have not always worked, and some communities remain isolated. Puerto Rico's National Guard and federal officials have crossed some rivers to deliver supplies. About 30 percent of telecommunications has been restored across the island, and those who live in cut off areas are climbing up hills and wading across rivers to obtain food and water or let neighbors know they're ok.

thimkerbell1 karma

Who could explain what would make a satellite phone not work? Are there more robust low-tech ways to communicate between ground and air? Shortwave radio? How can we make sure we know how people are doing?

danicacoto1 karma

All great questions that I'm not qualified to answer. Bad weather can sometimes affect certain sat phones. There were two free wifi hot spots set up in the capital of San Juan shortly after the hurricane so people could communicate with their loved ones. Also, those who were able to make it to San Juan from far-flung towns often posted updates of people on social media accounts set up specifically to help Puerto Ricans connect after the hurricane.

dimplejuice1 karma

I visited Fajardo a few years ago. I have seen a few articles that mentioned Fajardo. How is the east coast/Fajardo area doing?

danicacoto1 karma

There was a lot of flooding reported in Luquillo, Humacao and other areas along the island's east/northeast coast. Many wooden homes in impoverished communities were destroyed, and even the imposing, upscale El Conquistador hotel in Fajardo will remain closed until December. However, the ferries between Fajardo and Culebra/Vieques are operating again.

Tooblekane1 karma

I am planning on volunteering and leaving basically as soon as possible, after I've taken care of as much as possible for the time that I'm gone. Is a person like me with no real frame of reference for a situation like this going to be helpful, or could I wind up being a burden? I'll be going through VOAD, not just on my own, so I imagine I'll have a lot of help and guidance, but any advice at all will be welcome. Things to bring or do ahead of time that might not be super obvious, even to people who are experienced?

danicacoto5 karma

I know Puerto Ricans have praised those who are able to come down and volunteer. Since you'll be coming with an organization, I don't think you'll become a burden. A flashlight, water, snacks/canned food are still good things to bring even nearly two weeks after the hurricane. Some stores are opening, but the lines are very long and supplies are constantly running out. A washcloth to wipe off sweat during the day and mosquito repellent because Zika, dengue and chikungunya still pose a danger.

goatfresh1 karma

What are some things that are too small to put in a news article that you've seen? Positive? Negative?

Thanks for everything you do!

danicacoto3 karma

Thanks. There are so many of them, more positive than negative. In a disaster of this magnitude, it's tempting to dump your notebook into a story, but the editors won't allow it ; ) I recall one man in the central mountain town of Aibonito who lost nearly everything in his home but was able to save a picture of his mother: a woman with thick black hair smiling into the camera as she prepared a stew for her family near a river decades ago. He placed it on a rusted table near his bed and said she was the one who would continue to protect him (she had died from cancer several years ago). One negative nugget came from a woman I interviewed who lives in public housing and was filling up empty jugs at a water station. She said some people in her complex were selling stolen generators, food, water, fuel and other supplies.

drogyn17011 karma

I've heard a story, supposedly from a PR resident, about all the patients in a hospital ICU dying, likely because of lack of power or supplies. Is there any truth to that?

Also, have you heard anything about conditions in the mountain areas near Rincon?

danicacoto1 karma

The governor has issued a formal statement dismissing the report about all patients supposedly dying at one hospital. The most critical patients have been flown out or taken to Puerto Rico's largest public hospital for treatment. The mountain region near Rincon was hard hit, but officials have not reported any deaths in that area. Like the rest of the island, homes were damaged and destroyed, trees uprooted and light posts flattened.

drogyn17012 karma

Thank you. I have family in the area and so far they've only been able to make one very brief call out to let us know they are ok.

danicacoto1 karma

I'm glad you got at least that one key call.