PONCE, P.R. (WAVY) — George Rivera stands in the middle of a street lined with debris on the southside of the island just to get reception to make a call on his cell phone.
It’s a hassle, he says, but he is grateful to be in Puerto Rico with his family after losing contact with them after Hurricane Maria.
Rivera spoke with his son and three grandchildren after the storm made landfall 19 days ago, but next came radio silence and he wasn’t sure his loved ones had enough supplies to survive the aftermath.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Rivera, of the damage in hard-to-reach places far from San Juan. “It’s bad. It’s really bad.”
Rivera arrived to Saturday to find roads blocked and power, gas and patience at a minimum. From the airport, he snaked through traffic for more than an hour to eventually find his family. His granddaughter was playing outside when he pulled up to the house.
“When I opened the door and I popped my head out, you should have seen her. ‘Abuelito. Abuelito’ she came running to me,” he said.
Rivera says he could tell the storm took a toll on his son, who lost his home in the storm.
“He’s depressed. I could tell right away. He gave me a great big hug, but there was no smile on his face,” he said.
Now, Rivera is able to be close to support his son and about 15 other family members and friends.
The trip was made possible by Lynnhaven Dive Center in Virginia Beach. The business, which has been collecting donations to the send to Puerto Rico, heard about Rivera’s story last week and bought him a round-trip ticket.
Rivera says he has seen first responders and federal workers on the ground throughout the island, but he hopes the help will continue to pour in even after the headlines fade.
“I don’t want them to forget that the disaster here is very long term. Every little bit helps,” Rivera said.
Lynnhaven Dive Center is collecting donations until Oct. 15. The business says they are getting help from a nonprofit, Hillier-Ignite, to privately fly 2,500 pounds of supplies to Puerto Rico.
They are also accepting cash, gift cards and they have listed their specific needs for donations on their Facebook page.