As Hurricane Maria glances off the North Carolina coast, thousands of eyes in the state are turned to the island the storm devastated last week, hoping to aid family and friends stricken in Puerto Rico.
Nearly 90,000 Puerto Ricans live in North Carolina, a number that has tripled since 2000. New attention on the island’s catastrophic flooding, wind damage and almost total lack of power had Triangle residents scrambling to help Tuesday.
Restaurateur Randy Hernandez, who owns Empanada Factory and Tropical Picken Chicken in Raleigh and Wake Forest, set up boxes to collect food, clothing and toiletries.
“It has been a week since this tragic event, and the government still has yet to communicate with about 20 cities,” he wrote on Facebook. “Even if you do not see it first hand, you will touch a life in need. We are working with many direct organizations that will help us to transfer everyone’s donations to the right hands in Puerto Rico!”
The mayor of San Juan described the Caribbean nation as in a “humanitarian crisis” Tuesday. At least 10 people have died there and most remain without power. Roads are washed out and trees are twisted out by their roots as residents hunker down with barely functioning generators.
President Trump called the U.S. territory “literally destroyed” and promised to visit in a week. He faced criticism in Washington for tweeting about Puerto Rico’s aging infrastructure and debt as the nation waited for help.
In Raleigh, Puerto Rican native Gretchen Grajales still has not heard from her mother in Isabela, her hometown. Grajales, her husband and another Puerto Rican couple operate Spanglish, a food truck that serves native cuisine.
Grajales said a neighbor in Raleigh got hold of a satellite phone and was able to briefly contact her mother, but the two have not yet spoken.
“Our neighbor told us she was OK,” Grajales said. “She was all alone in Isabela.”
Grajales also reached a cousin in San Juan who said islanders are waiting for three hours in line for groceries, gas and cash machines.
“Sometimes the machines run out of money before the line is done,” she said.
She and others in the Triangle said they were trying to organize a relief group.