Puerto Ricans on Mainland Rely on Strangers to Reach Relatives

Many others tried to distribute information, even as they did not know what had happened to their own families. Carmen Rosich, 36, who lives in Fairfax, Va., was in relatively close communication with her in-laws on the island, but she was at her wit’s end trying to find out what had happened to her parents.

“I was thankful that my in-laws were doing well, but I did not know anything about my family,” she said.

Even before she was able to reach her parents, she said that she was on Facebook, trying to spread information about what was happening.

WIPR, a radio station, has said that it would help mainlanders find their relatives, but many have reported having trouble reaching the station. Several attempts to call on Tuesday resulted in busy signals.

Other forms of radio — as well as messaging apps like Zello — were more successful. Armando Pintado, 28, who works in Manhattan, knew that his mother’s partner, Felix Ruiz, was a Ham radio operator.

“After 24 hours of not being able to reach my mom and no one from her part of the island reporting, I thought, ‘Might as well give this a shot,’” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

He began reaching out on Facebook to other operators, looking for someone who could send a message. But, unbeknown to him, Mr. Ruiz was doing the same thing on the island.

On Friday evening, Mr. Pintado was getting out of a train when he received a call from a Puerto Rican phone number he did not recognize. After some confusion, he determined that the man on the phone had been contacted by Mr. Ruiz.

“As I’m on the phone with him, he goes on the radio and calls for Felix,” Mr. Pintado recalled. “And I hear him. He couldn’t hear me but I heard him through the phone. The only words that I heard that mattered were, ‘We’re all O.K.’”

On Tuesday, Mr. Pintado was able to speak to his mother directly. He said she had developed bronchitis but was in high spirits, and was relieved to learn that the rest of her family was safe.

Nuria Net, 35, who lives in Miami, also talked to her father, who lives in Guaynabo, on Tuesday for the first time since Hurricane Maria. She was forced to evacuate her home in Miami Beach because of Hurricane Irma, fleeing to Orlando, where her family still lost power because of the storm.

“I just feel like for the last three weeks, I’ve been distraught,” she said. Even now that she knows her father made it through, she still finds herself scrolling Facebook, seeing others look for lost loved ones.

“It feels so archaic,” she said. “It’s just constant in my feed.”

On social media, the public can witness such efforts in real time. Dozens of groups have sprung up on Facebook pertaining to specific municipalities in Puerto Rico, with members asking for updates on their relatives’ well-being and swapping information.

Many desperate messages have gone unanswered, or have not yet resulted in contact. But some people have been able to find out what they need to know through the groups.

On Monday, in a group created for residents of Vega Baja, a municipality near the north central coast, Wilmaris Rodriguez said she had not spoken with her sister or her daughter in the last five days. Ms. Rodriguez, whose Facebook profile indicates that she lives in Connecticut, provided an address where they could be located.

Another member of the group, Daisy Perez, said she’d ask someone to stop by.

“I’ll let you know as soon as they give me news,” she said in Spanish.

Eighteen hours later, the news was good.

“My partner visited your sister,” Ms. Perez reported. “They’re fine.”

If you would like to help relief efforts in Puerto Rico and other islands, here are some ways to get started.

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Source: New York Times



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