(Bloomberg) -- A month after Hurricane Maria battered this mountainousstretch of central Puerto Rico, recovery remained elusive alongHighway 152, where 82-year-old Carmen Diaz Lopez lives alone in ahome that’s one landslide away from plummeting into the muddy creekbelow.

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Without electricity, and without family members to care for her,she’s become dependent on the companionship of a few neighbors whostop by periodically. But a collapsed bridge has made itchallenging to even communicate with her friend across the creek,so she’s lived for the most part in solitude, passing theelectricity-less days singing “Ave Maria” and classic Los Panchossongs to herself, lighting candles each night so she can find thebathroom.

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Related: Puerto Rico faces steep damge as Hurricane battersisland

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“I just ask the Lord to take care of me, because he’s the onlyone I have,” Diaz Lopez said Wednesday.

Badly hit mountain roads


Diaz Lopez and her neighbors along Kilometer 5 of this badly hitmountain road in Barranquitas municipality are among the hundredsof thousands of Puerto Ricans still at risk as the recovery effortheads into its fifth week. Pipe water returned here in a trickle afew days ago, and the collapsed earth that blocked the road andsent muck into homes has been half-way cleared. But a phone signalis still non-existent, and residents are far from any semblance ofsustainable self-sufficiency.

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The situation threatens to undermine the economic and fiscalfuture of the island, and is already fueling a flood of PuertoRicans leaving for the mainland. At this stage in the recovery fromthe Category 4 storm, many find the current state of the U.S.commonwealth — home to some 3.4 million Americancitizens — unthinkable.

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“I just haven’t seen a situation where people don’t have accessto basic services for so long,” said Martha Thompson, the PuertoRico response coordinator for the Boston-based charity OxfamAmericas who also worked on the response to Hurricane Katrina.

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Meeting at the White House with the commonwealth’s governor,Ricardo Rossello, President Donald Trump said Thursday that hisadministration’s response to Maria deserves a perfect “10” rating.He also drew attention to the fiscal mess in Puerto Rico thatpredated the hurricane, suggesting he wants repayment of anyreconstruction loans to take precedence over the island’s existing$74 billion debt that pushed it into bankruptcy.

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Only tenuous, provisional measures seem to be preventing a muchgreater humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. A government task forcehas restored electricity to many hospitals and healthcarefacilities, but others are sustained by diesel generators thatoccasionally fail. (APR Energy Chairman John Campion, whose companyrents the units for natural disasters, said in an interview thatsuch generators typically have a life span of 500 hours, and thecrisis has already lasted longer than that.)

Lack of running water & electricity


Almost 80% of residents and private businesses — not just inthe rural mountains, but across the island — are still withoutelectricity.

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As of Friday, one-in-three residents lacked running water, andonly about half of cellular towers were operational. Meanwhile, theofficial death toll, currently at 49, keeps creeping higher, with76 islanders still reported missing.

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Many blame an insufficiently robust federal response, whileauthorities note the myriad logistical challenges that make thehigh-poverty island distinct from storm-battered states such asFlorida or Texas.

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Certainly, there have been improvements. In the days after thestorm, the entire island appeared engulfed in pandemonium; theairport operated at a fraction of its normal capacity with leakyceilings, no air conditioning or escalators; frantic islandersformed half-mile long lines for gas and diesel; and mayhem ensuedon roads and highways, even in the capital, as people tried tododge fallen trees and street lights.

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This week, by contrast, the airport was back in operation, witha blast of cool air greeting new arrivals at the end of the jetbridge and slot machines in the terminals blinking and jingling.The roads around the capital have been largely cleared, as havemany major highways.

Mudslides trapped mountain residents


But the reality remained very different in the mountains of centralPuerto Rico. Back in Barranquitas, Erika Perez, 43, wondered howshe would sustain her family. She lives just up the hill from DiazLopez with her husband, son and daughter, ages 52, 13 and 14,respectively. They have dogs, pigs and chickens, which supplied theeggs that kept the family fed during the early days after thestorm, when the mudslides had completely boxed them in.

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Perez said they’d been basically cut off for some 10 days, andshe had worried about what would happen if her daughter’s asthmagot bad.

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Asked if she felt forgotten by the authorities, she gestured toa heap of trash that had been accumulating since even before thestorm, insects circling. “We don’t ask for much, but at least giveme that,” she said. “Help us out for sanitary purposes.”

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Her husband had invested much of his time and money in plantainfields up the road, but the storm had obliterated much of the crop,and what was left had been stolen by those desperate for food. Thefamily also ran a bar next door — frequented by Diaz Lopez,who said she went for the live music — but the prospectslooked grim there, too, with no cars passing through the area.

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The Puerto Rican economy was in a dire situation before thestorm, and now it’s been reduced to a shadow of even that formerself. Small business owners everywhere have been forced to tradetheir digital inventory systems and credit-card machines forold-fashioned paper and cash, and they’ve been grappling with howto keep tabs on employees.

Survival mode


“Everyone is in survival mode," said Gustavo Velez, an economistwho runs the Inteligencia Economica consulting firm in San Juan."There’s no work, no earnings. People are buying what they need forthe day."

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He said the situation will only snowball, fueling a massiveexodus to the mainland, if the government can’t come up withresources and a viable plan. Governor Rossello has warned thatmillions could leave.

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As for Diaz Lopez, she said she’ll keep looking after herself.She’s found a new apartment connected to an auto body shop up thehill and out of the path of mudslides; she’s just waiting for theowner to clear the space out so she can move in at a cost of $250 amonth. She was left alone on the island when her ex-husbanddied, her son was killed by a drug overdose and the last of herextended family moved to the mainland. She wondered why theauthorities, local or federal, hadn’t done more for her. In themeantime, she said she knew how to do enough to stay healthy andsafe during the long, dark nights.

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“You’d think they’d say, ‘Here’s a woman on her own, an elderlywoman, let’s go help her’,” she said, standing in the doorway ofher home with her dog. “But I’ll be okay. I take life as itcomes.”

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