One year later, Puerto Rico still struggling after Hurricane Maria

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- Thursday marks a full year since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory is still struggling to recover from the devastating storm. The Puerto Rican government commissioned a study that determined nearly 3,000 people died because of the effects of Maria in the six months after the storm.

Many hurricane victims relocated after their homes were destroyed.

A local non-profit organization called Puerto Rican Center of Arizona held a ceremony to remember those impacted by Maria.

Maria may have left a trail of devastation, but the Puerto Rican spirit is still running high.

Fox 10's Stephanie Olmo went to Faith Lutheran Church in Phoenix where there were prayers, guest speakers and dancers.

There, Fox 10 was able to speak with some people who experienced the hurricane first hand. 

"It was just devastating. What was green was brown. What was full of life was dead," said Lillian Ortiz.

Ortiz was vacationing in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria made landfall.

"It was overwhelming and I don't think anyone was prepared for that," Ortiz said.

Ortiz was staying at a hotel in Isla Verde, an area located in the northeast part of the island.

"On our second day is when it came so we remained there as guests. We were very lucky that the hotel management said, 'You guys are our guests, you were here before it arrived, you'll be able to stay with us until you're able to return home,'" Ortiz said.

A five day stay turned into an 11-day stay. It was the vacation she never imagined.

But the impacts were certainly greater for the residents living in Puerto Rico during that time.

"When the hurricane arrived, you could feel all the wind surround you, surrounding the windows, the doors. I remember one of the doors in the house blew up," Ricky Diaz said.

Diaz and his family have never experienced anything like Hurricane Maria.

"Those days in Puerto Rico, you didn't have work. You didn't have power. You didn't have nothing. You had no power for ten months," Diaz said.

Two weeks after the hurricane hit, Diaz fled to Arizona with his family and hasn't returned since. How did he do it? How was he able to to leave his home for some place new?

"When you have family, you can move forward. Keep going forward and that's it. Don't look back," Diaz said.

Diaz says he hopes to return to Puerto Rico with his family in December. It will be the first time he'll see his house since he left a year ago.

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