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McHenry County residents share effect of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico on family

CRYSTAL LAKE – Mayra Scott said she will never complain about a power outage again.

After stressing for days over the status of her mother, Maria Baez, in Puerto Rico, she finally spoke to her Thursday.

Although Baez said she prepared well for Hurricane Maria with water and food, Scott said she knows her mother’s supply won’t last long.

“Knowing my mom, if she finds someone else not prepared, she’ll probably give them some of her supplies. That is just the way she is,” Scott, of Crystal Lake, said. “She sounded really stressed on the phone and said it’s just ugly – so ugly out there. There are no trees, no grass, and everything that was standing is destroyed.”

The hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least 16 people. Millions of people on the island face the estimate of weeks and perhaps months without electricity. The storm knocked out the entire grid across the U.S. territory of 3.4 million people, leaving many without power to light their homes, cook, pump water or run fans.

“This breaks my heart,” Scott said. “You don’t think about the little things like running hot water for a shower or a sip of coffee in the morning.”

Baez lives 25 minutes southwest of San Juan but is isolated from receiving any help. Other family members are 20 minutes away from Baez but cannot reach her because they don’t have any gas. Scott said no gas stations are open, people are stealing gas from each other’s cars, and the public transit Baez normally uses is not running.

Ivette Rodriguez Anderson of Lakewood said the prognosis of no power for four to six months is daunting. She has aunts and uncles in a rural area of Puerto Rico in San Lorenzo, and she worries about how provisions will reach them.

“A lot of media coverage has been about San Juan, but with donations coming to the island, they are not going to be able to distribute them out for several reasons,” Rodriguez Anderson said. “Either the roads have fallen apart or are covered by trees. The bridges are out and power lines are down. Trucks do not have gas. It’s a scary situation and I know there is help out there, but how is it reaching everyone?”

When talking about the fallout between the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, and Donald Trump, she said it’s deplorable.

“We need to stop talking about what needs to be done and do it,” Rodriguez Anderson said. “That is the tone right now through the island.”

Sending relief

Even sending supplies to victims has been a challenge, Scott said. After seeing the news and knowing people still were struggling from Hurricane Irma, Scott said, she knew more food and water would be needed.

She started rallying friends to put together a care package, and in a couple of days had begun receiving cans of food, toiletries, baby food and everyday household items.

As a Girl Scouts Troop 541 leader, other moms from the troop got involved and started spreading the word of donations. The troop banded together with the a local Boy Scouts troop and delivered goods on Friday.

However, when Scott went to the post office, she realized the challenge would be shipping the items, which is expensive because of the weight. A 10-pound package costed $50 at the post office, Scott said, and the office couldn’t guarantee when the package would arrive. She has received some funding to help ship the packages.  

“It breaks my heart that I have all this food and water ready to go and the shipping is going to cost more money than the goods themselves,” Scott said.

Ita Fotre, of Lakewood, said she worries that as supplies come in, people will loot the trucks because they are desperate.

“This is not typical of my island,” Fotre said. “We don’t do things like this, but hunger and thirst and desperation makes people do crazy things.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner is encouraging residents to use the Ready Illinois website – www.readyillinois.gov/hurricanehelp – to direct people to a list of vetted organizations and donate.

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti warns people against donating unsolicited goods, such as household items, but encourages making financial donations instead, according to a news release. This helps organizations to obtain resources near the disaster location and manage logistics and transportation costs related to moving large volumes of donated items.

“It’s bad,” Rodriguez Anderson said. “There is nothing more I can wish than to put my arms around these people and ask, ‘What’s going on, what do you need?’ Many of them feel horrible for the senior citizens and the disabled, but the rest on the island are hanging in there.”

Flying back

Fotre said that she is working hard to bring her sister back to Chicago. She could not get a flight out until Oct. 6.

“Depending on when you call, one day the flight is one price, the next day it’s three times the price,” Fotre said. “Airlines are price gouging. It’s crazy, and you tell people this is a humanitarian effort. These people are refugees. They are not coming to Chicago on vacation.”

Fotre said receiving medication for her sister, who is not in good health, has been hard. Her brother has a choice each day of waiting in a line for hours to get food, get gas or go to an ATM.

“You can’t do all,” Fotre said. “So one day, you pick one. It’s a horrible thing to even fathom and I can’t wrap my mind around having to choose to eat that day or standing in line for gas so you can go to a pharmacy to get prescriptions. What kind of a choice is that?”

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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