Anxiety, Fear as New Jersey Puerto Ricans Worry About Loved Ones
PERTH AMBOY — Just as residents of Puerto Rico are frustrated with no power and limited communication after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, family and friends are anxious with worry about their safety.
Three days after Maria ravaged Puerto Rico — flooding towns, crushing homes, and killing at least two people — millions on the island are faced with the dispiriting prospect of weeks or perhaps months without electricity. The storm knocked out the entire grid across the U.S. territory of 3.4 million.
The loss of power left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater, or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some contemplated leaving the island.
The biggest concern among residents of Perth Amboy, whose population is 24 percent Puerto Rican, according to the 2010 Census, is the lack of communication from their loved ones.
"There is anxiety out there because they don't know how they did during this storm. You don't know what's going on right now. Are they safe? Do they have running water? The homes that they're living in. How safe is that?," Mayor Wilda Diaz said, who is awaiting word from her mother and sister.
Diaz remembered spending her summers as a child with her grandmother in Puerto Rico. She visited the island in August with her son and daughter.
"The fact is that what they saw last month might not be there. The whole entire island is affected. What they saw — their memories might not be there, and I think that's so disheartening," Diaz said.
The mayor said there is an effort among Puerto Rican leaders to organize a fundraising effort after an assessment is made of what is needed and how they can get donated items there.
The American Red Cross is providing relief, and donations can be designated specifically to help those affected by Hurricane Maria at redcross.org, by calling 1-800-RED CROSS, or texting the word MARIA to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Four volunteers from New Jersey are in Puerto Rico to assist with relief efforts. Two of those volunteers were already there during Hurricane Irma.
Casa Cultura, an organization of artists and community activists in Trenton is working with the Puerto Rican Civic Association of Trenton to raise funds. The group's president, Samuel Kanig, has family including siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, cousins and many friends that live in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. All the major rivers that run through town are flooded and mudslides are a big concern.
“There is a cloud of fear and frustration. We are all so used to be able to pick up the phone or go on Facebook to contact each other right away and now we can’t. It’s frustrating. The worst part is handling the wait. Fear leads to writing speculation and rumors, and that is not helpful," Kanig said.
Kanig said he was in contact with his brother in San Juan who described the surrounding area as looking like a wildfire burned through the area.
Beatriz Babilonia of Keyport hasn’t spoken to her mother since Wednesday night. Babilonia lived in Bayamon for 20 years and just moved back to New Jersey about a year ago.
“My family lives in Bayamon, my father’s family lives in Moca, PR. I know that Bayamon got destroyed. I have seen places where my kids went to school, completely underwater. I’ve seen places where I used to take them to the park, gone. I don’t even know, I’m trying to stay positive, but it’s just one of those things, you know, I just gotta pray," she said.
Jasmine Rodriquez and the Associated Press contributed to this report