Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico absolutely devastated. We’re talking flattened houses, lost lives, shattered power grids, flooded towns, forests destroyed — devastated. On top of all that, mobile phone service, one of the island’s most important lines of communication, has been almost entirely cut. So many are now struggling just to tell their families they’re OK.
The scene sounds desperate. According to multiple reports, there’s virtually zero mobile phone service outside of San Juan, the capital. Even there, only 25 per cent of mobile phone towers survived the storm. In an attempt to find a signal, people are driving for hours around the island, a risky endeavour since Puerto Rico is also facing petrol shortages. Still, the highways are lined with cars as people park and wander around looking for just one or two bars. Wired internet and phone service is also spotty, since the Category 4 storm decimated utility poles and other aspects of infrastructure. A major underwater cable was also damaged.
“The only thing I can do is text,” Avalon Clare, a tourist from Colorado who’s stranded on the island, told the Associated Press. “We’re trying to leave because we can’t work without internet… We only have half a tank of gas. We’re running out of cash. It’s just getting harder.”
Some of the most troubled victims simply want to report back to their families on the mainland and elsewhere that they have survived the storm. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, word of mouth and handheld radios were the only form of communication. Meanwhile, people outside of Puerto Rico would call local radio stations and give the names and addresses of their loved ones, hoping to connect. For most, however, the path to recovery will be a waiting game.
“There’s no communication,” kitchen worker Yesenia Gomez told the AP. “We’re in God’s hands.”
And by “we”, Gomez means the 3.3 million residents of Puerto Rico, virtually all of whom have been impacted by the storm. There have been at least 10 deaths reported so far, and aid is arriving slowly due to the infrastructure damage. Quite conspicuously, Donald Trump has remained silent about the storm since Friday. The president did approve a disaster declaration in Puerto Rico last week and ordered federal assistance to the island. But while the United States territory struggled to recover, Trump was busy insulting black NFL players for protesting racism and barking about stricter border controls.