Anxious relatives make a frantic search to contact relatives in Puerto Rico
Chandrika Narayan, CNN
(CNN) — Those anxious to learn about the fate of their loved ones in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria say that waiting for word is the most agonizing part.
“It’s really hard, although I know in my heart they should be OK,” said Gretchen Lopez, a real estate agent in Atlanta. “I just want to hear their voice saying they are OK.”
Lopez joins others on the US mainland and elsewhere anxiously looking for scraps of information after the hurricane pummeled the US commonwealth on Wednesday, decimating the island’s already fragile infrastructure, downing electrical cables and telephone poles and crippling communication.
Three million people on the island are now largely without water and power.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the island’s energy grid took such a severe blow that restoring power could take months. He called Maria the “most devastating storm to hit the island in this century, if not modern history.”
Lopez is worried about her parents, brother and other members of her family who live in San German on the island’s southwest.
She said she last spoke to them shortly after Maria made landfall.
Even over the landline telephone, she said she could hear the wind howling.
“It sounded so scary. They described the sound of the wind as like the noise of an airplane taking off,” Lopez said.
Other families describe similar anxiety.
“There isn’t much you can do under the circumstances but hunker down… keep your radio on, keep your family together, pray, light a few candles and wait for the winds to die down,” said David Galarza, a New York resident who grew up in Puerto Rico. His father, sisters and other family members still live there.
Galarza sent his family a package via FedEx on Monday, and spoke to his sister Tuesday, before the storm hit. “D batteries are in high demand, flashlights obviously… I sent them portable fans and a portable radio,” he said.
Other families and friends are searching online, posting messages and photographs on Facebook, and calling the offices of elected officials.
Waiting for word
Even high-profile celebrities are caught up in the quest for answers. Natural disasters have a way of demolishing artificial demarcation lines.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Thursday night that she had not heard from “half her family” in Puerto Rico.
“The island is suffering a great tragedy right now,” Sotomayor told CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson, while speaking on a panel at the Democracy at a Crossroads National Summit held at the Newseum.
“Myself personally and the rest of my family, we are exceedingly concerned. We ask for your prayers.”
Carolina Rivera, who won the primary for a New York City Council seat, says she has not been able to contact her elderly grandparents in Aguadilla.
Others are also trying to desperately get information about aging relatives.
Maria Miranda posted on Facebook, seeking information about her father, Jorge Miranda, in the Alzheimer’s disease wing at the Ryder Hospital in Humacao. The hospital had no food or water, and emergency lines were not working, she posted.
Her sister, Ana Miranda Kreyszig, who lives in New York, said her sister and mother, who live in a suburb of the capital San Juan, tried to drive out to see him, but were unable to get through, she told CNN.
“Apparently, the roads out to the town are impassable, due to flooding and debris, ” Kreyszig told CNN.
It could be a while before there is any semblance of normality. Ricardo Ramos, the CEO of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN that the power system “has been basically destroyed.”
Searching for a sister in Dominica
Hurricane Maria also left a trail of destruction in the island nation of Dominica. Maria is just the latest hurricane to batter islands across the Caribbean in the last two weeks.
In Canada, Petrona Joseph, a public relations consultant in Montreal, said her sister came to visit her in Montreal. They hadn’t seen each other for 33 years. But the reunion was short-lived because the sister and husband were called back to Dominica to help ahead of Hurricane Irma. Joseph’s sister, Portia Meade, is a doctor and her husband is a vet.
Joseph told CNN that she talked to her sister around 8:00 p.m. Monday night. An hour later she got a text from her sister saying their roof had been ripped out and the family was cowering in the bathroom.
She then lost contact.
Friday morning, Joseph got some welcome news from her sister. A text read: “My sister, I miss you. We need your optimism right now because things are super bad.”
Joseph credits social media in her search for information. Hundreds are posting on Facebook and Twitter. “Thank God for Facebook,” she said. She is now trying to raise funds and get donations such as tarpaulins to the island.
Back in Atlanta, Lopez expressed frustration at not being able to get through some of the phone numbers posted on social media.. She is concerned about potential flooding from a river that runs through the neighborhood of her family home.
How to get in touch with people in Puerto Rico
For those trying to get information, here are some contacts. A word of caution: You may find the lines constantly busy.
▪ Contact the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.
▪ Here’s a link to a directory of the Puerto Rico emergency operations center.
• Puerto Rico Maria Updates is a public Facebook group, collecting information for those affected by Hurricane Maria. People are posting messages asking for information about specific towns and specific people. Facebook has also turned on it’s safety check feature.
▪ You can also try to find family and friends via the American Red Cross. Use the safe and well page.
▪ Some people have been calling the island’s local radio stations and tuning on to some local television channels.