Photo: Facebook/Yelitza Sisi Calderon Boschetti.

Puerto Ricans across Long Island are joining forces with local residents, community organizations, legislators and others to help the 3.4 million people affected in Puerto Rico after powerful Hurricane Maria carved a path of destruction and flooded most of the island—the second hurricane to impact the island in less than a month.

“To see the pictures and videos, it looks like a zombie movie. It’s horrible,” said Jessica Ruiz, a Riverhead resident and Puerto Rico native.

Ruiz, who created the Facebook group “Boricuas en Long Island” or Puerto Ricans in Long Island, has partnered with other women in the group and they are currently organizing locations where people will be able to go and make donations for hurricane relief efforts as soon as next week.

Ruiz said her church, Iglesia Hispana Pentescostal Una Puerta Abierta, in Patchogue will serve as a collection center Tuesday and Friday from 7pm to 8:30pm and Sunday from 2:30pm to 4pm.

Ana Maria Caraballo, program director at local radio station La Fiesta 98.5 and Puerto Rico native joined forces earlier this week with Margarita Espada, the president of the Puerto Rican Long Island parade and Teatro Yerbabruja, and they quickly started spreading the word. Caraballo said that it was “amazing” to see legislators, Stony Brook University professors, non-profit organizations and local residents from all nationalities come together to help.

“What started as a conversation between two desperate women has grown into a whole movement and now the community is coming together to help,” she said.

Caraballo will host a Radio Telethon this Sunday from 9am to 7pm at LaFiesta 98.5FM. She said that people can help by making donations to a special fund created for hurricane relief efforts, and they can also donate non-perishable items, such as water, canned food, diapers, formula, cereals and other items either at the radio station or throughout several locations in Suffolk County.

In Riverhead, Luisa’s Magic Scissors on Main Street, will be one of the sites that will be collecting donations. The salon is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., said owner Luisa Ramos.

“We have to be united in the face of such tragedy. We have to think of others with love. Today it happened to them, but tomorrow it could happen to us,” said Ramos.

Ramos and Caraballo said that donations for Mexico earthquake relief efforts will also be accepted.

“We have to help each other, no matter where we’re from, what we look like or what language we speak, we are all in this together,” Caraballo said.

Caraballo said local authorities in Puerto Rico are also requesting mosquito repellent. With so much still water because of flooding and heat, the mosquito population is through the roof and there is real fear people will be infected with viruses like Zika, she said.

A horrible wait

Puerto Ricans here are desperately still trying to get a hold of their loved ones three days after Hurricane Maria.

“­­­­I have gone through many things in my life. My father has had heart attacks, I have miscarried twice, but this is one of the most horrible experiences I’ve gone through,” said Caraballo.

“This not knowing if your loved ones are dead or alive, this uncertainty, it’s like being horribly thirsty and not having water, a pressure in your chest than cannot be relieved,” she said, her voice breaking.

“My tears are dry, I have cried non-stop,” she said.

Fortunately for Caraballo, she finally received news of her father Friday afternoon, four days after losing communication with him, in an incredible tale of neighbor helping neighbor when relatives of friends also living here went in search of her father and found him disoriented, but safe. She said she could breathe a little better, but the work is far from over for her.

“I am one lucky daughter, but there are thousands like me that are still awaiting to know anything. I’m dedicating myself to do as much as I can to help Puerto Rico and to find as many people as we can,” said Caraballo, who has a strong social media following.

Jessica Ruiz’s grandparents Jose (Tony) Carrasquillo Merced, 76 and Gladys Cruz, 71 went to Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico to check on Carrasquillo’s brother after Irma and are now stranded on the island.

“My grandparents went to Puerto Rico to check on my grandfather’s brother right after Irma and they became trapped there,” said Ruiz.

“I still haven’t received any information on my brothers and sisters who live in the southwestern part of the island,” she said.

The island remained entirely without electricity, and generators, batteries and fuel have become life-saving necessities, according to local authorities.

Officials said that at least nine people have died in Puerto Rico because of Irma, a number that is expected to climb. Electrical service could take from four to six months to resume Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello said in a televised interview.

Other services, like cell phone signal and internet are working inconsistently and many rural areas are still without communication. According to the Federal Communications Commission damage to “the island’s communications infrastructure had been catastrophic.”

“It’s very hard to communicate, especially in the southwest of the Island. That’s where the eye of the hurricane was located and cell phone towers there were destroyed. You get some reports from the northern part, but not from the southwest,” Caraballo said.

Despite the lack of communication, local Puerto Ricans quickly rallied to organize disaster relief efforts, even before the hurricane hit.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and apps such as Zello, a walkie-talkie type app, have become the go-to platforms for Puerto Ricans living abroad to find out about how to help and what is the status of the situation in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican working radio stations and online news sites have also become important sources.

“I have never used or refreshed Facebook so much in my life, she said.

“Two weeks ago I thought we had escaped a terrible tragedy, we didn’t know that a full-on disaster was around the corner,” said Caraballo.

A little over two weeks ago Puerto Ricans were relieved when they were spared of the worst of another strong hurricane, Irma, which devastated neighboring islands. People from the British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda were evacuated to Puerto Rico then, where shelter and supplies were available.

Yesterday the crisis worsened when the National Weather Service announced that the Guajataca dam, located in the northwestern part of the island, was failing, putting in danger 70,000 people living in towns near-by.

“Unity is crucial now. We already had a gigantic economic deficit, now the country is destroyed. Puerto Rico has helped others in crisis before, now we have to help Puerto Rico. From Puerto Rico to the world and from the world to Puerto Rico,” Caraballo said.

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