Senior Elena Angueira-Bosch has been hearing her phone ring in her sleep, even when no one is calling.
Waiting for calls is her only chance to hear from family and friends in Puerto Rico, where she grew up, lives and plans to build a career. With no cell service or internet anywhere but San Juan, the capital, she has no choice but to wait for people to get enough gas to drive to the capital despite a shortage.
Her parents have been getting up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to try to get gas. Besides cars, they also need to get fuel to power a generator to run a fridge holding medicines for her grandparents.
“So what we have is just enough for keeping the medications refrigerated and keeping my grandparents alright,” she said. “[My mom] tells me that a lot of neighbors, since they know they have a generator, ask to charge phones, to charge lamps. Basic necessities.”
Medication and health care has become a huge problem as hospitals are unable to keep machines running to keep patients alive.
“My grandparents live close to a hospital … the generators, they stopped working after a week, because it’s one week of continuous work. People didn’t die during the storm, people are dying afterwards,” she said.
Hurricane Maria crossed Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, taking out the entire electricity grid. The storm also destroyed Angueira-Bosch’s family’s house, one of their cars and the road between San Juan and their town, Isabela.
The first news she heard from Puerto Rico came from a high school friend who had enough gas to make it to the capital on Sept. 26. The trip took him six hours one way, when it normally takes only two. Her cousin called later that day after being rescued from her house by the National Guard.
“And then nothing. A silence. That’s what still breaks my heart, the silence,” she said.
Between then and hearing from her mom on Oct. 3, she has heard periodically from people who make it to the capital, some of whom she does not even know. People going to the capital take lists of people to call to update about family members.
Angueira-Bosch got four calls from two different unknown numbers on the morning of Oct. 3. When she tried to return them, her calls did not go through.
“I called my brother, it was like 6 in the morning … and he was sobbing,” she said.
The calls had been from a hospital. Her parents had been in a car accident but her brother did not have the whole story because the call had cut out while he was on the phone with the hospital.
“That day, it was horrible,” she said. “Tuesday was horrible.”
She got a call from her mother later that day. Her parents had been in their surviving car and had driven over a downed electrical line.
“I think we had a gas leak or something in our car so the car exploded, and they jumped outside the car,” Angueira-Bosch said.
For Angueira-Bosch the accident highlighted the failure of the aid being given to the majority of the island. Only San Juan and a couple other major towns seemed to be receiving any aid.
“Hey, Puerto Rico is 78 towns, not just three,” she said.
The lack of aid has also led to organizational issues. The banks and post office are non-functioning, meaning people are left with just the cash they had when the storm hit. The grocery stores have run out of food and people have turned to scavenging rotten food from the dumpsters.
“Resources are so limited, it’s basically survival of the fittest. [My mom] was telling me people were breaking into stores and supermarkets, into other houses just to get water and mac and cheese. She tells me a person got arrested by getting some mac and cheese from a store.”
The lack of aid has also brought people together as they work to clear roads, provide electricity and reach out to family members. According to Angueira-Bosch, the Puerto Rican diaspora has also banded together to help. She has reached out to friends across the mainland as they all try to get as much information about their loved ones as possible. One friend from the southern part of the island has still not heard anything.
“Multiple people, multiple students, we’re getting together, we’re trying to do something. It’s not a lot but when you see people getting together in towns in Florida, I think Chicago did it too, getting water, food. Just getting together [to] do something for your home,” she said.
In the light of the limited government aid, Angueira-Bosch said she had turned her hope towards private donors who had gone outside the capital and shared pictures on social media. The townspeople have started rebuilding on their own.
“A lot of the help is from neighbor to neighbor, it’s going back to days where you did laundry in the river and you collect water from the rain. Basically, your neighbor helps you,” she said. “So my town is getting cleaned up by the people from the town, not by the government.”
The Knox community too has rallied around her. Her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, held a fundraiser for Puerto Rico on Sept. 29. She sends about half her paycheck to her brother now because her parents cannot use the banks to send money.
“I had a call from his roommate saying that he wasn’t eating. I went on walmart.com and bought him groceries … Here, the Knox community has been very helpful in checking up on me and I know if I am ever hungry, someone’s gonna swipe me in,” she said.
She also noted that with the lifting of the Jones Act, other countries had stepped in to send aid. The Jones Act requires ships sailing from one U.S. port to another to be constructed in the U.S., registered with the U.S. and run by American sailors. Mexico sent help despite being struck by an earthquake the day before the storm. Cuba and Venezuela sent doctors and gas respectively.
The island still has a lot of rebuilding to do and Angueira-Bosch’s family will be dealing with the effects of the storm for years. But for now, they are somewhat okay.
“What I know is that, at least physically, my parents are alive, my grandparents are alive,” she said. “I know they’re struggling. I know it, they know it.”