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Puerto Ricans Venture Out to Face Hurricane Maria's Devastation

Millions of Puerto Ricans are grappling the realization that life will be different for a long time following Hurricane Maria.
Trees downed by Hurricane Maria are seen in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, on Thursday.
Trees downed by Hurricane Maria are seen in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, on Thursday.Arturo J. Garcia

Andrés López says it was one thing to be hunkered down during raging Hurricane Maria, but the real shock came after opening his front door in flood-ravaged San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"You just go, 'oh wow,'" the attorney said, recounting what he saw on the short drive to check on his parents' home. "Nothing can prepare you for this. The devastation is such, it's hurtful to the eye."

Millions of Puerto Ricans ventured out Thursday to discover Maria's impact. They also faced the realization that life would be different for a long time.

Like countless other Puerto Ricans, López now faces an unknown amount of time without power.

"It's candles, flashlights and good old-fashioned sweat," he said.

At night, López said, it's like "boca de lobo" — a wolf's mouth, a popular expression in Puerto Rico that means pitch black. He was happy about the 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew that's been imposed for a few days.

López, who is also a Democratic fundraiser, at least has a working phone. What's very hard is for the many families who have not been able to reach loved ones around the island or in the U.S.

Related: Families Desperate to Hear From Relatives in Puerto Rico

Gustavo Castillo, who lives in the Condado section of San Juan, has limited cell reception but no water or electricity. He thinks the prediction of months without power is very plausible.

"That is definitely a reality based on the devastation I see around the city," Castillo said. "But I don't think the government really knows how long it's going to take because they have not been able to assess the damage yet."

Cristina Collazo is the founder and vice president of Valija Gitana, a fashion retailer with several stores around the island and in Florida. She was still trying to figure out the extent of the situation in Puerto Rico.

"There is only one radio station up right now and thankfully my phone is working halfway so communication and information are limited," Collazo said. "I am asking my family members who live in Florida to give us any information they see in the news channels."

But she was worried about even more immediate concerns, like ensuring her neighborhood was safe from looting, and trying to clear debris on her street.

"We are in our communities finding a way to help anyone who needs help and starting to clean up the streets and walkways," Collazo added.

Additional reporting from NBC Latino contributor Alexandra Campbell Howe.

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