Trying to communicate after the hurricane: ‘It’s as if Puerto Rico doesn’t exist’

The morning after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, Sofia Maldonado tried to call her parents, who were still on the island. “You call them, call them, and no answer,” she says. She switched to texts. Still nothing. “Not having communications with your parents or your friends or anyone, it’s very hard because you don’t know how they’re doing.”

Maldonado, an artist based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was traveling when the hurricane hit. She watched the destruction unfold on television from her friend’s apartment in New York. The Category 4 storm splintered wooden homes, destroyed most of the power lines, and killed dozens of people. Satellite photos show only darkness where there was once a web of lights. “It’s as if Puerto Rico doesn’t exist,” Maldonado says.

Now, more than a week later, filthy, stagnant floodwaters still blanket the streets. The island remains almost entirely without electricity, and nearly half of the 3.4 million US citizens who live there don’t have fresh water. Food and fuel supplies are scarce, and two people on life support have died because a hospital’s generator ran out of diesel. The island’s communications infrastructure was also badly damaged, leaving Puerto Rico eerily cut off from the rest of the world. The widespread power outage knocked out almost all cable service and telephone lines, according to the latest update from the Federal Communications Commission. And more than 90 percent of the island’s cellphone towers are still out of service.


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