The devastating effects Hurricane Maria had on Puerto Rico have inspired local residents to pitch in and contribute whatever they can to help.
For one Upper Deerfield resident, the storm has hit the home that helped raise her and form her successful career in the mainland United States. Now, she’s returning to Puerto Rico to help her eight siblings and many nieces and nephews who still live there.
Maria Martinez, who came to the mainland in 1989 to obtain a university degree, serve in the military and become a physician’s assistant, is preparing for a trip to her hometown of Aibonito to bring supplies to her family and help any resident she can who cannot get medical help.
“People have gotten word that help is on the way, but they are not sure when or if it is coming,” said Martinez, who will fly into Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, on Thursday.
It has been more than a week since Hurricane Maria hit the island as a category 4 storm, destroying the power grid and leaving millions without power or access to basic necessities such as food, water, hygiene products and fuel.
Hurricane Maria was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in more than a century and has brought the island’s economy, particularly agriculture, to a halt, the Associated Press reported.
Martinez said she got in contact with her family in the days after the storm and learned everyone was OK, but they needed basic personal supplies to live out what will be a long rebuild of her hometown.
During the storm, Martinez said, her sister said the wind was so strong it sounded like “a jet was landing on the roof of her house and it just went on and on for hours,” and the rain was so heavy it was like someone was “spraying a power washer on the windows.”
Martinez has spent the last few days gathering supplies, such as batteries and solar-powered lights, radios and USB chargers, and will personally deliver them to 30 relatives in Puerto Rico this week.
She also will bring cash, because most stores that are open on generators do not have functioning credit card machines.
“My brother waited in line for almost seven hours to get gas and my sister waited over three hours to get some cash out of the bank,” Martinez said. “Everything is a line there.”
The New York Times reported Sunday that some banks were open so people could get cash, but they were limiting it to $200 per person.
Martinez said the military has set a curfew and they are managing people’s lines for gas, banking and supermarkets. There has been some looting, but overall, her family told her most things are civilized.
Two of her siblings work in a funeral home in their hometown, and they have been using a generator to keep the cadaver refrigerators running, she said. Normal work hours and school have paused, and the residents of Aibonito have been working to clear roads and rebuild homes that were destroyed. She is thankful the town did not experience significant flooding, because it’s in the mountains.
The devastation has led to several organizations to take up collections in South Jersey.
On Saturday, Caesars Atlantic City took up a collection during a Luis Fonsi concert at the Circus Maximus Theater.
Several high schools, including St. Joseph’s in Hammonton, took up collections during Friday night football games last week.
Martinez said the outpouring of support from mainland communities has been wonderful, but she has to go to Aibonito herself to make sure her family gets the supplies they need.
She was able to secure a round-trip ticket to San Juan because she already had booked a flight to see her family. That flight was canceled because of the storm, but since she already paid for a ticket, the airline let her get one of the rare flights to Puerto Rico.
“There is still no postal service there since the storm, so I don’t know if the supplies will get there,”she said. “I’ll do anything for my family and my country.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.