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Local Puerto Ricans anxious to hear from family and friends on the island after Hurricane Maria

Posted at 4:00 PM, Sep 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-20 18:43:45-04

The Puerto Rican government reports that Hurricane Maria has wiped out power for the entire island. This has also left local Puerto Ricans in South Florida in the dark about how their family members are doing during the storm. 

Some, like Willie Hernandez, are gathering at La Cocinita Latina, a  Puerto Rican restaurant in West Palm Beach. There, many have tuned into the island's news channel to learn the latest from their hometowns.

"Ay bendito. Ay bendito, that's the word we always use, ay bendito-- what can we say? Pray to God to please keep them safe," said Hernandez. 

He fears for his family on the island, but more specifically his aunt who is in her 70s. 

"We're worried about Titi Lola, we haven't heard about Titi Lola," said Hernandez. 

Across from Hernandez inside La Cocinita Latina, Carlos de Jesus is also waiting to hear from his family. 

"I was calling my mom all the way from over here in Palm Beach, telling her you have to go to a shelter, but they won't go," said de Jesus. 

He says his mom should have left her home. He's seen videos of the damage in Trujillo Alto and not being able to talk with her is nerve-racking. 

"Being away from the island, the pain is even bigger because I feel like hopeless and helpless you know, I can't do anything other than call and offer advice and when they don't follow that advice I feel so empty-hearted," he said. 

At her office, Emma Velez is feeling the same desperation.

"As soon as possible, I'm going to try to fly to Puerto Rico," she said. 

Velez's entire family lives on the island and she hasn't heard from any of them since Tuesday night. 

"The worst part is that you don't know when you're going to be able to contact them," said Velez. 

The videos she's seeing posted on Facebook are adding to her anxiety. 

"Flooding, roofs off from buildings, houses, people trying to escape from their house because of the flooding," said Velez as she described the videos on social media. "They are very sad images."

Velez said her parents faced little to no impact when Hurricane Irma's effects were felt on the northern coast of the island, but they still lost power and cellphone communication for a day. Now she's worried how long it might be for her to reconnect with them. 

"You think about your family, your friends, and the time it's going to take to recover all that," said Velez.