Patricia Pichardo of Atlanta has been spending a lot of time on Facebook as she tries to connect Puerto Ricans abroad with those on the island.
Shortly after Hurricane Maria blew through the U.S. territory and power went out across the island she created the Facebook group Puerto Rico Maria Updates.
“Someone is looking for a family that owns a particular store, that should be fairly easy,” she said while reading one of several thousands of posts published in the group.
The group is less than a week old and more than 140,000 people have joined. Puerto Rico Maria Updates received a mention in a New York Times article about the struggle to reach people on the island after Maria.
A Puerto Rico native herself, Pichardo tried calling her sister following the hurricane. Unable to reach her sister directly, she began searching on Facebook for info about the town she lives in.
She then randomly stumbled upon a post with details of her sister’s town.
“I was like if I hadn’t run across that post, if I hadn’t looked through the comments in that post, if I hadn’t seen anything I wouldn’t have known how that town is doing. I said we need to put it all in a centralized place.”
That is when she launched Puerto Rico Maria Updates. Puerto Ricans on the island with reception have been posting updates and relaying messages.
“Finally I got a call through, they have a landline,” read one response to a post for help. “I gave them the information from your family and they’re going to call.”
Families abroad are also learning their loved ones on the island are safe as updates come by individual neighborhoods.
“Take a notebook, collect the names of your neighbors. Take a picture of it, next time you have reception load up the pictures. We’ve had some success with that,” Pichardo stated.
A growing number of moderators are organizing posts and tracking Puerto Rican news for those who are unable.
Pichardo said the work in her Facebook group is far from over, but rewarding results will keep her going.
“If I can connect one person, I’m happy,” Pichardo mentioned with a smile. “Actually we are pretty sure we’ve connected at least one person, so I’m pretty happy about that.”