A week after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, many of the millions of Americans with friends and relatives on the island still haven’t heard from their loved ones. As some desperately search for answers on social media, others have tried to channel their nervous energy toward coordinating relief from the U.S. mainland.
Melina Olmo, president of the National Conference of the Puerto Rican Women chapter in Washington, D.C., hasn’t spoken to her 70-year-old mother and 43-year-old sister in Utuado, Puerto Rico, since Sept. 19 at 9:21 p.m. ― just before the Category 4 storm slammed into the island. Olmo has since been posting photos and information about her family on Facebook, hoping someone will find them.
“I have not been able to get a full night’s sleep since the storm,” Olmo, 41, told HuffPost. “I keep waking up every two hours, just waiting for the phone to ring, for a text, for some divine sign that they are OK.”
Olmo tried to brief her family on the news during their last phone conversation. “Their power had just gone out and my sister did not have time to pay her cellphone,” Olmo said. “She was concerned they would cut it off.”
Utuado, the mountain town where Olmos’ family resides, is 65 miles from the island’s capital, San Juan, and has been ravaged by landslides that have blocked roads. The nearby Viví River is overflowing, and a lack of basic resources like clean water, gas and medicine have created a desperate situation.
Utuado’s plight is typical of the island’s towns. Maria, which killed at least 16 people, left all of Puerto Rico without power and took out most wireless cell sites. The lack of communication has hindered relief efforts and makes it impossible to fully assess the impact of the storm. Although some residents, mostly near San Juan, have found ways of communicating with loved ones in the U.S. mainland via radio, word of mouth and a few working landlines, many in the Puerto Rican diaspora have yet to…