TAMPA, Fla. – Sitting in the midst of a donation drive for Puerto Rican hurricane victims Sunday afternoon, Sarykarmen Rivera wept as she held her phone.
On the other end of the call: her parents in Puerto Rico whom she had not heard from since Hurricane Maria hit the island last week.
“All my friends had seen them but it’s not the same, I knew they were fine but it’s not the same as hearing their voices,” Rivera told 10News reporter Bianca Graulau.
Rivera is eight months pregnant, so her mother is “going crazy,” she said, “because she thinks I’m going to give birth, but I’m okay.”
“All I wanted to hear was her voice,” Rivera said. “So that phone call made my day.”
Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory of around 3.4 million Americans as a Category 4 hurricane, the largest storm to reportedly hit Puerto Rico head-on since the 1930s.
Some 25,000 Puerto Ricans call Tampa Bay home. For so many, the past several days have been torture as they’ve been forced to wait on word from loved ones on the island.
Nilsa Garcia’s wait finally ended Saturday night when she says she received a call from her sister.
“It was crazy, I was glued to the news,” she said. “I was calling her at 3 in the morning, 4 in the morning, 7, 11 o’clock at night to see.”
Garcia now knows her sister, nieces and several grandchildren are all OK. For now, they’re finding shelter, food and a prayer in a church near their home.
While Garcia says she worries about the long term recovery that lies ahead for them, the news they’ve survived is a welcome relief.
But others have not been so successful in reaching relatives.
Among several patrons at Garcia’s Puerto Rican bistro in Tampa on Sunday was 17-year-old Luis DeJesus, who told 10News he still hadn’t heard from his father, stepmother or grandparents.
“I do my best just to not overreact or freak out, but at the same time the sooner I hear from them the better,” he said.
But DeJesus said he was hopeful knowing that his father lives in Ponce, an area on the southern end of the island which fared well in the storm, according to reports.
Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which represents the local government of Puerto Rico in Washington D.C., is taking names hoping to connect loved ones socially. We’re told those with questions can either call or email the Administration’s office.
If your loved one needs emergency assistance, you can alert the U.S. State Department at this address or call 1-(800) 407-4747 (U.S. & Canada) or +1-(202) 501-4444 (from overseas).
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