Eastern Iowans from Puerto Rico connect with family back home


It has been nearly two weeks since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Today, over ninety percent of electricity on the island is wiped out.

Not only does this make living life day-to-day nearly impossible for those living in Puerto Rico, but it makes it hard for family members back in the U.S. to reach their loved ones. Several natives of Puerto Rico live here in Eastern Iowa and are using social media to help.

Yolanda Rivera lives in Coralville, but grew up in Puerto Rico. The day that Hurricane Maria hit, she posted on Facebook, asking strangers to help her locate her parents.

“If anyone in Puerto Rico knows anyone in Monte Claro and is able to communicate with them, could you check on my parents," the post read. "I haven’t heard from them all day, I just wanna make sure they’re OK.”

At first, someone replied that they had seen this neighborhood earlier and it “didn’t look good.”

Yolanda broke down.

“I was in the car with my kids, trying to not let them see me cry,” she said.

Thankfully, her parents left the neighborhood and were briefly able to find cell service. Yolanda was relieved - she could hear her parents’ voices. But she knew not all were so lucky. So she decided to start posting on Facebook, becoming part of an effort to help others reach their family members.

Multiple times a day, she posted messages of aid - who needs resources, and where.

“People were asking for rescues if they were flooding,” said Yolanda. “People on the mainland would see this and try to contact authorities and get some help.”

For Julia Oliver Rajan, a native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and current resident of Coralville, the application What’s App proved to be extremely helpful. It was through that application that friends were able to locate her mother, who was safe.

“What’s App was my go-to news,” she said. “It made me feel connected with whatever was happening. And that’s the only way I could reach my mother."

Both Yolanda and Julia say that they wish their family could be in Iowa with them, but complicating factors are preventing them. If they leave, someone might loot their homes. Gas purchase has limitations, so many cannot buy enough to even come close to driving to an airport. And many are busy trying to rebuild the area around them: two of Yolanda’s brothers work in telecommunications and are working to restore the area.

For now, they are doing what they can to help out remotely.

"It's a tragedy," said Julia.

Friday night at 8:00 p.m., Caliente Night Club in Iowa City is hosting a fundraiser dance for those affected by Hurricane Maria. The proceeds of the ten dollar cover will go to the charity United for Puerto Rico. The dance will go until 1:00 a.m.

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