SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An island-wide blackout has made a difficult situation worse for Puerto Rico. Hurricane Fiona made landfall Sunday, leading to more than 1,000 rescues and counting. Nearly 1.5 million customers lost power and hundreds of thousands are out of clean drinking water.
Amid flooding and mudslides, hospitals are hanging on thanks to generators. That's the situation for many residents, too, who are sharing everything from water, food, and generators.
11Alive reporter Paola Suro's parents, Manuel Suro and Mari Mendoza-Suro, are both in Puerto Rico. They live in Atlanta but arrived to the island Wednesday to spend time with family members. Little did they know they would end up hunkering down to stay safe from Hurricane Fiona.
"We do have the generators so for periods of three hours we turn it on, then we leave it off for like eight hours and we turn it on again," Manuel said. "When it's on, we recharge our cell phones and we make sure everything in the fridge cools so that nothing goes bad."
They are currently in the northern part of Puerto Rico and have no power or water, but consider themselves among the lucky.
"Looking at the images of what Fiona was, I think we were lucky here on the north side of Puerto Rico," Mari added.
It was just five years ago that Hurricane Maria wiped out the power grid, leaving some people without electricity for nearly one year, highlighting the long-standing problem there.
Neighbors fear not having a timeline for when power could be fully restored.
"We just don't know how much longer we're going to be without power and that's what gets people really anxious because you just don't know for how long you're gonna have to live this way," Manuel added. "They knew power was gonna go out, we didn't think the entire island would be without power. So imagine how bad it has been."
Since Maria, many residents have tried getting solar panels, but not everyone has the means.
Energy company, LUMA, says it won't be like last time, and that they've been working to restore electricity with help of local government agencies.
Atlanta real estate agent Magda Gomez, who is originally from Puerto Rico, says more investments need to be made to strengthen the electrical power grid.
"The electrical company charges big amounts of money and we don't see nothing happening. It was weak before Maria, then Maria made it worse," Gomez said. "In the past three or four years electricity was going out, nothing new, it's just that now it's really out. Are we going to have power in two days or six months? We don't know."
Her mother lives in Puerto Rico and needs electricity to power her oxygen.
"I have a mother that is 89 [years old]," she said. "She uses oxygen so I had to make sure she's taken care of as well. This [hurricane], even though it's a category one, it was strong enough to weaken. We had landslides, mudslides."
Through her career, she's familiar with real estate in Puerto Rico, and explains that even though the homes there are built differently, strong winds still have a strong impact.
"The construction in Puerto Rico is mainly built with cement and cinderblock, which is great. It can be very frail in many areas in Puerto Rico, especially for people who don't have the means to have a solid home. But over there when a hurricane comes right in and they're lingering there for a long time with wind and water it's going to damage the entire structure also of any home: cement or not cement," she added.
Puerto Rican athletes and singers have been speaking out, too.
Braves player Eddie Rosario, who is from Puerto Rico, shared a video of flooding on the island on his Instagram page after Fiona made landfall.
Meanwhile, popular Puerto Rican singer, Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, released a 20-minute docu-music video two days ago. The video talks about the island's weak electrical grid - among many other inequities in Puerto Rico.
Across the country, including here in Atlanta, there are cries for help.
"It's super hard to see those pictures and being told there's nothing you can do besides calling them, supporting them," said Gomez, who wishes she could be with her mother. "I wish I could hop on a plane and go over there but I'm just going to be another problem. Another body to feed."
Even in the darkness, neighbors are coming together, sharing generators, food, and water.
"Some of the neighbors do not have generators, and so we were able to, with an extension cord, have them plugged into this generator," Manuel said. "So that their food will not go bad and they can charge their phones again. It's not only about us, it's also about helping the rest of the community."
Several organizations are helping to send donations to the affected areas, including the Red Cross and the Hispanic Federation.
Organization PRxPR is also gathering donations as it says floods and mudslides are expected to reach historic levels. The group invests 100% of donations amongst the most critically affected communities, focusing on donating food, clean water, and fuel/ renewable energy. To donate through the nonprofit, click here.