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Mainland Families Desperate to Hear From Relatives in Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria knocked out power to the entire Island of Puerto Rico, relatives on the mainland say they are desperate to hear from their families.
Image: Puerto Rico In The Aftermath Of Hurricane Maria
Damaged homes in the La Perla neighborhood the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall, on Sept. 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the "most devastating storm to hit the island this century."Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images

It's been nearly three days since Edith Rodriguez last spoke to her father.

As Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico, Rodriguez's father messaged her on Facebook to say he was racing to a nearby town to pick up an elderly relative and find shelter.

She hasn't heard from him since.

"We knew it was going to be bad, but we didn’t expect them to go radio silent," she said. Although she and her husband live in Dallas, they both have relatives throughout the northern and central parts of Puerto Rico.

"This morning was kind of surreal. I've been making a list of people I need to get a hold of," she said, her voice breaking. "I can't make the assumption that no news is good news."

Hurricane Maria made landfall on the U.S. territory as a Category 4 hurricane Tuesday, destroying towns, flooding streets, and knocking out power to the island. It's the strongest storm to directly hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century.

As the hours stretch on without updates, relatives on the U.S. mainland say they're becoming desperate for news.

Justin Vélez-Hagan, founder and executive director of the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, said he has been trying to reach family on the island for several days with no luck.

Related: Floods Ravage Puerto Rico, Island Faces Months Without Power

He last spoke to in-laws in Lares, on the western side of the island, when the powerful center of Hurricane Maria was moving through but hasn’t been able to since then.

“Earlier we got a phone chain going and everyone was trying to reach somebody and pass on a message, but no one was reaching anyone,” Vélez-Hagan said. "It's a waiting game right now."

Vélez-Hagan said that, in the past, communication in Lares has been cut off during thunderstorms, so he's not panicking — yet. But he said he's worried that his elderly relatives on the island may not be able to get to a hospital, find transportation or to a grocery store.

Jerry Cuevas said he felt lucky to make it through Hurricane Harvey with little damage to his home. Now, the Houston resident is hoping that his relatives in Puerto Rico will be able to say the same thing.

Cuevas said he was able to exchange messages with a police officer and family friend in Bayamon, who described "total devastation."

"He said there's subdivision areas where there are mudslides, and roofs are gone from some houses," he said. "It's chaos."

But some families have found reason to hope.

In Tampa, Millie Cortes, a pediatric dentist, said she was relieved to finally receive a What's App message from her brother, Gregorio, this morning. He wrote to say that their parents were safe, and that he would try to send updates when he could.

Related: Hurricane Maria: Dominica Aerial Pictures Show "Total Destruction"

"It’s very stressful," she said. "We're hoping that little by little we can spread the word and kind of have other persons getting in contact and somehow communicate that they're okay.”

And until she hears from her family, Rodriguez said she's going to continue searching social media for updates. She's joined Facebook groups and started combing Snapchat geotags for pictures tagged to towns close to her relatives.

"When you think about it, this is a U.S. territory," she said. "We’re not talking a third world country, the thought of not having any communication at all is surreal."