The latest in a string of deadly hurricanes, Hurricane Maria stampeded into Puerto Rico on Wednesday, killing at least six, demolishing buildings, flooding neighborhoods and leaving virtually the entire country without electricity.
It was the most powerful storm to strike the island directly in almost a century and the third hurricane to pummel the Caribbean in a short few weeks. “We will find our island destroyed,” Abner Gómez, Puerto Rico’s emergency management director, warned before the storm fully hit the country.
The biggest source of anxiety for people is the lack of power, which means a lack of communication. Phones are down, and virtually the entire island is without power and could be for months.
That’s left thousands of people like Dianne Maldonado, a 19-year-old student at Columbus State University, scrambling to find news about the safety of their family and friends.
“All my family are on the island. I haven’t been able to hear or find out anything about them,” Maldonado told the Ledger-Enquirer. “I called a hotline, and they said nobody has even been able to get to the area where they are at. It’s been such severe flooding, there’s no path to the street.”
Before the storm, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello urged people living in older, wooden houses to immediately seek shelter. Thousands did, but Maldonado said she was especially worried about one half of her family that lives in a less-than-sturdy house.
“They aren’t exactly well off financially, and so they had a really small, old house that would easily be knocked over by any wind.”
Maldonado’s family had come over to the U.S. to visit during Hurricane Irma, so they didn’t experience the full brunt of that storm. But they boarded a plane back to the island right when Maria was gearing up to make it’s strike, Maldonado said.
“The last word any of us heard was that they landed. I’m assuming they probably made it home,” she said. Maldonado doesn’t think they went to a shelter, either. “As far as I know they were just at home. The idea was, well, we’re going to just stay home and board up the house.”
Maldonado said she originally had been hoping to hear something within a week, but after reading more and more about the destruction, she doesn’t know if and when she’ll get news.
“My family lives on the top of a mountain, so they’re always the last to get power or anything restored,” she said. “I can only help where I’m at, and I don’t know how — there’s no way to see where anyone’s at.”
The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration has released a central phone number and email to contact in order to try to get information about family and conditions on the island. People can call 202-800-3133 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE