Photo Credit: Andres Kudacki for TIME
When Hurricane Irma hit the U.S. island of Puerto Rico, it took the lives of three people and left 70 percent of the residents without power. Just days later, Hurricane Maria flattened the island, drenching it with record rainfall, knocking out all of its power and much of its water supply, destroying its agriculture and littering its roads with uprooted trees and downed power lines. The hurricane’s devastation came as Puerto Rico struggles under the weight of an economic crisis worsened by the island’s decaying infrastructure.
By the last week in September, Maria had caused scores of deaths throughout the Caribbean, including at least 31 in Puerto Rico. The storm set off a humanitarian crisis, leaving thousands of 1199ers of Puerto Rican descent from Florida to Massachusetts anxiously trying to contact loved ones and send desperately needed supplies, such as food and health and hygiene products.
“I spoke to my mother, who lives in Aguadilla, just hours before the hurricane hit, but I hadn’t heard for four days” said Gladys Bruno, an 1199 contract administrator and former patient associate at Brooklyn’s Lutheran Hospital in late September. “I had sisters, cousins, nieces and in-laws that I’m worried sick about,” Bruno says.
Bruno finally reached them and learned they had survived. Her story is not uncommon; according to news reports, some residents were driving as much as two hours to locations that have cell signals, so that they could call loved ones on the mainland.
The disruption and pain are expected to continue well into the future. Calling Maria the “worst disaster in the island’s history,” Gov. Ricardo Rosello predicted Puerto Rico might be without power for months. In late September, residents near the Guajataca River on the northwest part of the island were told to evacuate because of an imminent break in the dam that holds back the river.
“I’m worried about the aftermath,” Bruno says. “We Puerto Ricans are a resilient people and have survived many crises, but we also need assistance. The administration and anyone who is able, including 1199ers, need to do whatever they can to help the island recover and rebuild.”