Houstonians with family members still in Puerto Rico say the situation there after Hurricanes Irma and Maria is desperate: impassible roads, no running water, and an island that could be without power for months.
An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Puerto Ricans call Houston home. Now some say after people from the U.S. territory came to Houston to help Houston after Harvey, it’s time for the Houston region to return that helping hand.
It was an unimaginable five-day wait for Houstonian Natali Juarbe.
“I recharged my phone 100 times in a day, but I never lost hope,” said Juarbe, who was born in Florida but whose parents live in Puerto Rico. “It was everything to hear my dad’s voice.”
Juarbe says on Sunday, she finally heard from her parents who live in a mountainous region in the middle of the island hit head-on by Maria.
“He’s good,” Juarbe said of her father. “He couldn’t speak in English to me. He speaks perfect English, but he couldn’t. I guess he was a little in shock.”
Juarbe says roads around their town are washed out, bridges and communication lines are down, and supplies are dwindling. She says she was finally able to book a flight to San Juan from Atlanta on Thursday after several failed attempts.
“All (my father) said to me when I told him was, ‘Your mom needs you,’” she said.
Javier Ferrer, President of Houston’s Puerto Rican & Cuban Festival, finally heard from his father in Puerto Rico Saturday.
“I was at a concert. I stopped whatever I was doing,” said Ferrer, whose family lives in the mountainous Barranquitas and Naranjito regions south of San Juan. “I didn’t even ask about the property, because I really don’t care. I just wanted to know that he was OK.”
Now Ferrer says he’s starting a donation drive Saturday.
“The problem that we’re having right now is FEMA has control of what goes into Puerto Rico and what comes out,” Ferrer said. “They’re holding everything in Florida...so nothing is gonna be able to go to Puerto Rico for two weeks.”
Ferrer is looking for a warehouse centrally located in Houston to store donations for that two-week period while also trying to raise money through GoFundMe to cover shipping costs. He also is looking for donations of several types of items, including D batteries for flashlights, chainsaws to clear downed trees from roads, and solar-powered cell phone chargers so that people on the island can get in touch with family members back home. For more information or to contact him, tap/click here.
Ferrer says three certified public accountants will monitor the money received. All transactions will be posted on his organization’s website, and 100 percent of funds collected will go to people affected.
Meanwhile, Juarbe says once she lands on the island, she will try to drive donations to her parents’ town.
“Right now, it’s just neighbors helping neighbors,” said Juarbe, who is also asking the U.S. Congress to step in with aid. “It’s a desperate situation. They’re gonna need every bit of help.”