As Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, April Rodriguez frantically tried to contact her husband.
A flight attendant, Rodriguez happened to be out of the island U.S. territory when the powerful storm hit on Sept. 20. But Josue Droz was among those weathering out what Puerto Rico’s governor later called the worst disaster in the island’s history.
“I didn’t have contact with him for four days,” April said, speaking from the South Riding home of her brother, Carlos Rodriguez. “I got on Facebook and asked people to pray. The response I received was amazing. People I didn’t know were asking me what they could do… I knew I had to do something more.”
Working with her church in Puerto Rico, April formed a Facebook community group, PRrelief143. Within days, friends and family members contributed some $5,000 worth of food, chain saws, solar batteries and other supplies. They packed up the donations on a trailer in front of Carlos’ home and prepared to ship them to the island. The first shipment was slated to leave Friday, Sept. 29, out of Norfolk.
“This is just the first step,” April said. “The devastation in Puerto Rico is unbelievable… It’s a nightmare.”
Nearly all 3.4 million residents of the island saw power knocked out immediately after Maria struck. Flash flooding made many roads undrivable. Numerous homes and businesses were completely flooded. Almost a week later on Tuesday, most residents were still without power and phone service, according to news reports. There is damage to the trucking infrastructure, to the distributors, to the supermarkets, to the roads and even if the infrastructure is not so damaged in one area and a driver can get to a truck, there is no fuel to get him to the next.
“I still haven’t heard from some relatives there,” April, a Virginia native, said on Monday evening. Jessica Walling, a friend helping to pack food and supplies and Manassas resident, added that she, too, had yet to hear from some relatives in Puerto Rico.
“People are doing the best they can under the circumstances, but the situation is getting more desperate each day they go without power and food,” April said. “Many are stuck in the airport without food and even restrooms. Some of them are on dialysis and can’t get help. A large amount of people have not had power since Hurricane Irma [which struck Puerto Rico two weeks before Maria]. And Maria was much, much worse.”
Droz, a Puerto Rican native, told her their condo sustained only minimal damage, but other nearby buildings were not so fortunate. While Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló praised U.S. aid efforts, he called for a larger commitment from Congress. Much of the resources to help hurricane victims have been stretched to help people in Texas and Florida, Carlos noted.
While Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló praised U.S. aid efforts, he called for a larger commitment from Congress. Much of the resources to help hurricane victims have been stretched to help people in Texas and Florida, Carlos noted.
“That’s why we’re trying to get more attention on the situation in Puerto Rico,” he said.
The group has held food drives with Cars & Coffee at Dunkin Donuts in Dulles Landing, a group which consistently holds charity events using mass public appeal to connect the love for cars and touch the hearts of the community.
“We bring together hundreds of car enthusiasts and owners each week. Its a captive audience where we set aside the stress of the week and try to enjoy the time, fellowship and our passion – it would be a waste to toss the ability to gather folks in one place without presenting an opportunity to help others in need, perhaps less fortunate or in a place we can only imagine, from dealing with a debilitating disease to having family in countries decimated by natural disasters like we see in Puerto Rico. We are honored to help April and Carlos,” said Eric Jacobs, organizer of the Dulles Cars & Coffee group.
They also take donations at Carlos’ home on Harris Street. Other groups and even the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office have conducted drives.
Donated food should be nonperishable and as lightweight and high in protein as possible, such as ramen noodles, beans, and beef jerky. The more lightweight food helps maximize the impact since imported goods are charged fees based on weight, Carlos said.
They also have collected chainsaws, garbage bags, axes, solar panels and batteries, and even a satellite phone.
Even before Irma struck, Puerto Rico faced an economic crisis with heavy debt and the poverty rate above 40 percent. Then Irma caused an estimated $1 billion in damages. Maria’s damage toll will likely be many more times that.
“Puerto Rico will never be the same,” April said.