WASHINGTON — The destruction left after Hurricane Maria has Puerto Ricans in Maryland and elsewhere in the continental United States feeling paralyzed because they cannot reach many family and friends on the devastated island.
The last message Edmundo Torres, of Gaithersburg, received from family the morning of Hurricane Maria said simply “esto está duro” which translates to “this is hard.” It would be two days after the storm before he received any news.
“I’ve been heartbroken over the images you see coming out of the island,” said Candy Cintron, a DJ for the local Latino radio station, El Zol 107.9. “You see the places that you recognize and were really beautiful completely destroyed. You don’t see the beaches anymore, you don’t see the luscious palm trees. There’s just sand and water everywhere.”
Puerto Rico is home to approximately 3.4 million people, and has been entirely without power, as well as most cellphone service, since just hours after the Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday. Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, said that the island is facing four to six months without electricity.
Cintron, who lives in Clinton, Maryland, with her wife and 2-year-old daughter, told Capital News Service that she has been unable since Tuesday evening to reach her mother in Naranjito, an inland city toward the middle of the island.
“My cousin told me that they could not get to my mom because so many roads are blocked in Naranjito,” Cintron said. “I know that she’s physically OK, because she has a cement house, a generator, and a water pipe installed, but my mom has a heart condition. I don’t know what that means for her with all this stress.”
According to the National Weather Service in San Juan, the northeast part of the island remains under a flash flood watch as rain is expected to continue through Friday.
“There is a feeling of despair in not knowing what to do,” Cintron said. “I think in the past three days, I haven’t slept for more than eight hours. I only sleep when I’m exhausted, and even then my phone is up extremely loud just waiting for some update.”
For Torres, who has lived in Gaithersburg for the last year, it is “incredibly frustrating” to not be able to receive news from anyone outside of San Juan, the capital city and hub of the island. Family and friends have started to check in, he said, but are often able to only after traveling toward bigger cities like San Juan.
“It is not only my family I worry about, but most of my friends are also on the island,” Torres said. “I cannot be sure if their houses are flooded or what other needs may have arisen. My best friend’s family had to evacuate their house the night of the storm because of flooding.”
Torres’ family lives in Salinas, Ponce and Cabo Rojo, towns in the southern areas of the island that still do not have functioning communications.
“I spoke with my mother in Salinas and my father in Ponce, the day before the storm,” Torres said. “They were calm, which I attribute that to preparing for Hurricane Irma just a week earlier.”
His uncle traveled from Salinas to San Juan on Thursday morning to be able to deliver the call that while everyone was OK, the situation in Puerto Rico was “very ugly.”
Torres has yet to hear from his father in Ponce, but told Capital News Service that his mother called him Thursday after traveling north to check on a friend.
For both Cintron and Torres, the lack of communication with Puerto Rico makes it hard to know exactly how to organize support in any official capacity for the island, especially since they are unable to travel home.
“I am talking with some people and we’re going to start getting donations of first aid and other supplies like diapers, water and canned foods together,” Cintron said.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you have in PR right now, you cannot get to the store to buy anything,” she added. “Money will not create that much of a difference, it’s the money we need to be able to transport these goods to the island.”
Torres finds solace in his “friends of the diaspora boricua” (other Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland), who are also anxiously awaiting information about relief efforts for their home.
“Currently the main highways are clogged, main bridges collapsed, and fuel is in limited supply,” Torres added. “I have started seeing reports from previously unreachable towns asking for supplies of basic necessity. This is the one way that we ‘puertorros’ in the states can help.”