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York County residents await word of relatives in Puerto Rico

York Dispatch
Electricity poles and lines lay toppled on the road after Hurricane Maria hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and turned some streets into raging rivers in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Jose Rios hasn't heard from his family in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory Wednesday.

The manager of Mi Caldero restaurant in York City said his parents and sister live in  Adjuntas, near Ponce, on the south side of the island, one of the areas hit hardest by the worst hurricane in Puerto Rico in 80 years.

Rios last heard from them after Hurricane Irma lashed the island on Sept. 6. That storm was so bad that it took out a cement pole and cars were flying around everywhere, they told him.

But now — nothing.

The entire island is without power, Rios said. 

Jose Rios, manager of Mi Caldero, Puerto Rican restaurant in York City

Many areas were still without power after Irma, he said, and restoring electricity now probably will take longer. His family probably won't have power for six to eight months, Rios estimated.

Relief efforts will be the next step, he said, but right now the primary focus for Rios is hearing from his family.

"We just want to know that our family's OK," Rios said.

Catalino Gonzalez, a deacon with St. Mary's Catholic Church on South George Street in York City, also is concerned about family members.

He's originally from a small town in Puerto Rico called Villalba, northeast of where Maria first landed on the island. Gonzalez returned for a visit after Hurricane Irma and only returned to York on Saturday, Sept. 16.

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His wife, her cousin and his sisters are still in Villalba, he said.

Gonzalez said his 88-year-old sister is sick in bed and requires assistance to feed herself. He is worried about her in the power outage, but there is nothing he can do right now.

"A lot of people from my hometown live here in York and have been trying to get in touch with no luck," Gonzalez said. "We just pray for them. All we can do."

Jamiel Alexander, of York City, gives his support for Anne Clark during her City Council campaign kick-off Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Continental Square. Amanda J. Cain photo

More:Bailey Coach activated for Hurricane Irma, seeks truck for Harvey relief efforts

Anne Clark, community outreach director for the Lincoln Charter School in York City, said the school, where 50 percent of the students and staff are from Hispanic or Latin countries, is starting a fundraiser Monday to support relief efforts for Puerto Rico and Mexico — recently hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

Dimes for Disaster was organized by the school's English as a Second Language team. There will be a school-wide effort to collect change, and the kids like to be involved in the competition. The winner will get an ice cream party. 

The school had previously organized collections sent with Bailey Coach to support relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.

"It’s time for us to step up, " said ESL team organizer Karen Horn. "With 50 percent of our population being Hispanic, it’s nice to help them out as much as we possibly can." 

Ketsy Carabalo, who also works at Lincoln, has family in Puerto Rico. 

She managed to get in contact with them after Maria through her cousin, who had been charging her phone in her car and connecting through Facebook.

Carabalo's grandparents and cousin had been without power from Irma for two weeks, and Carabalo anticipates they will be without it for three to six months because they live in Rio Grande El Yunque in the northeast, in a jungle area on a hill.

"It’s going to be a struggle, definitely, for them," she said.  

In reflecting on the strongest hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years, Carabalo said, "I really can't believe it hasn't happened in so long."