*This is part one of three stories leading up to Kevin Wallevand's documentary 'Rebuilding Paradise' airing on WDAY at 6:30 Thursday, Nov. 22*
Travel around the island of Puerto Rico.
From the air, a tourism promoter's dream with its blue seas, inviting beaches but a few steps from the beauty is an incredible ongoing recovery effort.
Two dozen volunteers from Fargo-Moorhead and Park Rapids, Minn., will spend a week, trying to get life back in order for Luz Soto Martinez
When Hurricane Maria came ashore, her home in Dorado, Puerto Rico, became a statistic, and so did she.
Luz was homeless.
“The roof was off because of the hurricane and the water came in and damaged everything,” Luz said through a translator.
The 71-year old great grandmother was hoping to save her home and move back in but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared it a total loss, and besides that, Luz was out of power for four months.
“Terrible and painful,” Luz added.
After living with relatives this past year, Luz was offered a piece of land just yards from her hurricane-ravaged home.
It was her brother's old run down, abandoned home.
It was a place that needed to be gutted and so the team of volunteers from Fargo-Moorhead and Park Rapids moved in to do a complete makeover.
The home would get new windows, walls, flooring, bathroom, and appliances.
Over the period of one week, Luz would begin to see four walls become her home.
“She says that she feels lucky and blessed because she is alive and also because the volunteers and all of you are here,” the translator added.
“This is great, yesterday when I came over I had my camera and the owner showed up and I have a picture of her with a big smile, it was so welcoming and that was big enough reward for me,” Al Judson, a volunteer said about Luz.
“It is wonderful to put her face to this, you get to say, we are helping her, we are making a difference to this woman,” said Julie Cook.
“It means the world to her and it means the world to the community that we are here doing this work,” Keith Brokke said.
All across Puerto Rico, the sight of blue tarp covered rooftops one year after Maria.
We saw it everywhere.
Eleyza Mendez lives across from where the volunteer team worked on Luz's home.
“The winds were hard and the rain, a lot of rain. Really scary. There is the roof that came down, part of it went there and part it went down by the barn. It all flew away,” said Mendez.
She was out of power for six months before the lights came back on.
And now she sees these Minnesotans and North Dakotans coming in to help this island recover and get Luz a home.
“We are happy to see you people help us, we are happy,” said Mendez.
As night falls in Puerto Rico, a reminder of what was lost and now the effort to restore, and rebuild Paradise.