Local Puerto Ricans lose contact with relatives, begin relief drives following Maria’s wrath

CLEVELAND – Northeast Ohioans have lost communication with relatives in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria flooded streets and knocked out power and other utilities on the island.

“It's pretty nerve wracking and stressful, but you try to stay positive,” said Gerardo Colon, of Cleveland, who has not heard from his parents or grandparents since the storm hit.

Officials said it could be months before power is restored in Puerto Rico, and Colon fears looming health and sanitary hazards.

“My parents, we pretty much work on staying prepared for anything that could come, but this was larger than anything we could expect,” he said. “The flooding I've seen is larger than I ever would've expected.”

40,000 Puerto Ricans live in Cuyahoga County, and 90 percent of them live in the Clark Fulton neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side, according to the Hispanic Alliance. Like Colon, many have strong ties to the island.

“We're dual cultural, where we have one foot in America and one foot in Puerto Rico on the island,” said Hispanic Alliance Executive Director Juan Molina Crespo.

The organization is working with others across the country and locally to bring relief to storm victims. He said monetary donations may be the most effective way of getting help to those in need.

“Maria is a powerful Latina monster and she has come with all her fury,” he said.

Several groups are gathering non-perishable items, diapers, formula, cleaning supplies and other items for victims at the San Lorenzo Club at 3121 W. 33rd Street each day from noon until 6 p.m. through Sunday.

“It's where we come from,” said Angelo Ortiz, with the Latin Americans for Athletics, Arts and Academics. “We are poor people, we came here to get better, but we can't leave them behind.”

Debra Keeton was among the first to give after seeing scenes of the devastation on television.

“You have to help people when they're out. I don't have a lot. I'm not rich, but you ever see a U-Haul behind a hearse? No. You can't take it with you so you might as well give it to somebody who needs it,” she said.

**More on Hurricane Maria here**