Meet the Puerto Rican sisterhood reinventing the island's future after Maria

A community volunteer planting new crops at Huerto Semilla, an urban garden at the University of Puerto Rico.

(CNN)A year ago, Hurricane Maria tore into Puerto Rico, obliterating power grids, decimating farms, flattening homes and wrecking the local economy.

Maria came on the heels of Hurricane Irma -- sister-storms that would forever change the fate of the island.
But even as Maria churned, another sister-storm raged on. This one involved a sisterhood of Puerto Ricans, some living on the island, others part of the diaspora in the US mainland.
Most of these women have never met, but together they display a raw human resolve capable of reinventing the island's future.
Right now they are rebuilding Puerto Rican homes, restoring farms, installing solar power grids and seeking to transform the local economy -- all motivated by a heartfelt wish for the island they call home to become whole again.
These are their stories.


Maria Gabriela Velasco (L) and Carla Gautier (R), co-founders of housing startup HiveCube in Puerto Rico.
Carla Gautier is an architect with a monumental function -- in the form of a shipping container.
Days after Hurricane María flattened thousands of homes in Puerto Rico, Gautier joined FEMA as a construction inspector.
"In most houses, the only thing standing was the toilet," Gautier told CNN.
Makeshift homes and bureaucracy collide
For generations, more than half of Puerto Ricans relied on informal construction to build affordable homes and bypass a costly, bureaucratic process. It was these homes that bore the brunt of María. About 300,000 dwellings suffered significant damage and some 70,000 of those were completely destroyed, according to the island's Housing Department. Without formal property deeds, home owners struggled to get federal aid. Money was tight.
"It was really frustrating," Gautier said. "I wanted to figure out a way to make a type of home construction that was accessible to everyone."
The answer: shipping containers.
HiveCube's vision is to turn a shipping container into a home.
A container built for hurricanes
"They are fabricated to withstand the worst atmospheric conditions, in the middle of the ocean, getting hit by waves and typhoons," said Gautier, who had seen firsthand this type of construction used successfully in Europe.
So she turned to lifelong friend Maria Gabriela Velasco, a psychologist and entrepreneur. Together they formed HiveCube to revolutionize the way Puerto Ricans build affordable homes.
"The median income on the Island is around $20,000, but the medium home value is about $100,000," said Velasco. "It's not enough. That's where we come in."
HiveCube's basic model is priced at $39,000. It includes two bedrooms, one bathroom and a kitchen-living area. They are compliant with US building codes and are ADA accessible. The entire structure, including the windows, can withstand a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 175 miles per hour, assuming it is properly anchored to a foundation.
HiveCube's shipping container homes can withstand 175 mph winds when properly anchored.
For an additional cost, the homes can be fitted with a solar power microgrid, rainwater collection and a sewage treatment system that doubles as a garden.
"The 'plano modelo,' or basic model, can be placed anywhere on the island and is considered safe housing that meets all construction codes," says Velasco.
HiveCube is now taking orders from homeowners who can afford the units without financing and is in the process of securing an owner-financing plan with local banks.
Next in line is an assembly plant.
"We are trying to establish a manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico to create jobs," said Velasco. "Our goal is to build about 100 'hives' a month through a prefabrication process."