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In the s, about a third of all people living on the island were children. In , children accounted for only about one in five. In eastern Puerto Rico, a year-old and his family moved into his grandmother's home because their own residence had its roof partially torn off by Maria.

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Eleven people crowded inside. The teen slept in the living room. He took the situation the hardest, according to his mother. As months passed, the buzz of people, the lack of privacy, lack of cell phone service, lack of power, lack of anything to do, made him anxious and violent, she said. On December 3, the mother found her son dead outside the house; he had apparently taken his own life. In northern Puerto Rico, a year-old girl also had been struggling with depression after years of sexual abuse, according to her mother. In the weeks after Maria, the mother called police to try to enforce a restraining order against the alleged abuser, she said, but could not reach authorities because cellular networks didn't work.

Court proceedings and therapy related to the sexual abuse case stalled after the storm, too, she said, causing new anxieties. Puerto Rico officials did not respond a request for comment on whether the deaths had been investigated or were determined privately to be hurricane related.

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On October 17, when the delayed pleas for help finally arrived on her phone, Alejandro's mother already suspected the worst. The "ticking time bomb" had gone off. The US and Puerto Rican governments' response to Maria has widely been criticized as slow and insufficient -- and in a July report FEMA admitted it was inadequately prepared for the "unprecedented" disaster season, which included several major storms and wildfires, events climate scientists say will become more frequent as humans continue to warm the planet.

Puerto Ricans were left to live in the wind and rain, without roofs, for months because of delays in federal contracts and programs. Power was restored far more slowly on the island than in recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas.

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Federal officials -- who have authority in Puerto Rico because it is a US commonwealth, home to American citizens who don't elect voting members of Congress and who can't vote in the general election for US president -- have said repeatedly that the government responded to the crisis in Puerto Rico as it would to a storm in a US state.

The island's remoteness and the poor state of its power and water systems before the storm made it more difficult to repair, officials have said. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, said earlier this month that federal recovery efforts were "an incredible, unsung success," baffling Puerto Rico's governor and others on the island.

On September 13, Trump falsely claimed that "3, people did not die" in the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, dismissing the hardships of thousands of people -- like Alejandro and Isabel. When Isabel arrived home on that harrowing day in October, she called her son's name. She only wishes that the phones had been working, and that she had been there to reason with her son, to tell him all the reasons he had to continue living. I could calm him down. Maybe he could have regained some hope. Last fall, , kids started public school here. This year, it's almost 39, fewer.


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Some schools -- one in four -- closed permanently in the year after the storm. Teachers say some students are struggling with basic reading and math skills because of the weeks or months they spent away from the classroom after the storm. The problem for kids post-Maria is "not just that the families that stay are going to be in dire situations, and that kids are going to go through traumatic stress," said Amanda Rivera-Flores, executive director of the Youth Development Institute.

We keep losing children and young people. And that undermines the economic ability of Puerto Rico to survive.

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We don't have people. How many kids are we going to have here? When Rivera was growing up, in the s, about a third of all the people living in Puerto Rico were children.

In , children accounted for only about one in five people, according to data from the Kids Count project from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. And for "The Maria Generation" to continue to face an uncertain future. In the mountains of Caguas, at the top of a hill so steep cars have to floor the gas to make it up, year-old Katielie Flores is sure that she'll stay in Puerto Rico and that things will work out. For months after the storm, she was living in a home without a functional roof. Her aunt died about a month after the storm from complications related to chronic asthma and other breathing conditions.

She couldn't operate a breathing machine that required electricity. Katielie's aunt, shown here, died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The year-old worried she would be next. For weeks, she said, she couldn't sleep because her lungs were strained and her mind raced. I was just scared. I told myself, 'Don't think about this because it's just going to get worse. In July, Flores was hospitalized with acute breathing problems, according to her grandmother, Jackeline Carrasco.

The family has moved to an apartment in town in hopes it will help. Flores at times has the weary look of someone who's lived well beyond her years. In other moments, though, she chases siblings around the house and laughs with abandon. She loves this island, wants to be a nurse.

She doesn't know how, but everything will work out. She wonders what will become of her family, and of Puerto Rico.


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  8. So many families have left the island. So many homes remain covered in flimsy blue tarps. Isabel believes strongly that Alejandro should be counted among the victims of Maria. She assumed, based on their conversations, that Alejandro's death was tallied.

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