Puerto Ricans on Long Island were filled with anxiety Wednesday after not hearing from loved ones after Hurricane Maria pounded the island with 155 mph winds and overflowing waters.
More than a dozen community leaders gathered in Central Islip for an evening meeting while the storm was still lashing the island “to be together as a community” and get their own relief effort started.
“Today is just a meeting to see each other’s faces” and lean on one another, said Margarita Espada, the organizer of Brentwood’s yearly Puerto Rican parade, who called the gathering.
Espada hadn’t heard from her 26-year-old daughter Mariana Lima and other relatives because the storm knocked out power and damaged communications towers.
“We are now just lying in wait and hoping for the best,” Espada said. “There is no communication whatsoever . . . The people I was able to speak to said they had never seen anything like it; that everything is torn up and that the storm’s noise was like a wild howl.”
Before they lost touch with loved ones, relatives and friends on Long Island were told ominously about rivers swelling and neighborhoods flooding.
The power went out hours before the hurricane made landfall at 6:15 a.m. Cellphone towers stopped giving signals. Then landlines went. Social media postings from people riding the storm stopped after awhile.
All that was left for many was silence.
“We don’t know what’s going on, and that’s the problem all of us have,” said George Siberón, 70, a Baldwin resident who had yet to hear from his daughter and mother, among others.
“Just someone let me know that they are OK is all I want,” Siberón said.
Nearly 100,000 Puerto Ricans live on Long Island. They have expressed concern in the days ahead of the storm, which hit the United States territory as the island was recovering from damage caused by Hurricane Irma about two weeks ago.
Before being hit by the storms, Puerto Rico was mired in an economic crisis that has crippled its government agencies.
A key question going forward, said Freeport resident Jose Oquendo, will be how much help Puerto Rico will receive from the United States for repairs and rebuilding.
“Puerto Rico and the [U.S.] Virgin Islands should be treated equally through their recovery in terms of funds assigned for help than other parts of the United States mainland, like South Florida,” said Oquendo, 62, an Air Force veteran. “Sometimes we think they abandon us.”
East Hampton resident Martin Drew said that while he is not from Puerto Rico, he has developed strong ties to the island after living part-time in the town of Rincón during the last 15 years.
He spent restless hours checking the news and trying to contact friends on the island.
“One of my friends is telling us he’s scared like he’s never been in his life,” said Drew, 52. “We have our prayers going for all of the island.”
Those meeting in Central Islip drafted a preliminary plan to start a fundraising effort in the next days and gather goods for those stuck on the island without power. They will announce details in days to come.
“I feel good that we are doing something, even if we have to tweak things as we find out more,” said Renee Ortiz, 44, of Central Islip. “A lot of us were feeling helpless and this at least gives us a feeling of purpose.”