When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, it not only tore roofs off buildings and caused extreme flooding, it also created a massive power outage that is affecting all 3.5 million people on the 100-mile-long island, which is making communication across the area very difficult.
Some residents experienced power outages when Hurricane Irma passed north of Puerto Rico on Sept. 6 and never had their power return, according to NBC News. Other outages occurred Wednesday morning as Hurricane Maria approached the island, and even more followed throughout the day.
Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority announced at about 4 a.m. Wednesday morning that 884,000 of its customers had no power. Later, the island’s Emergency Management Agency announced that 100 percent of the island was without power, according to The New York Times.
Both Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said it will likely take months to fix the outage across Puerto Rico.
“The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Cruz told MSNBC on Thursday. “We’re looking at four to six months without electricity [in Puerto Rico].”
Rosselló told CNN that the storm badly damaged the infrastructure of the power grid, which he called “a little bit old, mishandled and weak,” on Anderson Cooper 360.
The power outage is inhibiting communication across the island.
On Thursday, more than 95 percent of cell sites were out of service, according to the Federal Communication Service. That’s even higher than after Hurricane Irma, which had put about 56 percent of the island’s wireless network out of service.
Without cell service, many people are unable to contact loved ones and confirm their safety.
Resident Jeannelish Deida told CBS3 on Thursday that she cannot contact her family within the island. Deida is unable to travel due to flooding on the streets, but once water levels decrease she plans to drive to her family members and make sure they are safe.
Because they lack cell service, many residents have been using social media to stay in touch from across the island.
“Keep posting information on social media because that’s the only way that we are looking for what happened because here we don’t have communication,” Deida told CBS3 on Thursday.
Many people living in the continental U.S. are also concerned about their friends and family in Puerto Rico, including Orlando resident Lius Alfonso Figueroa and South Carolina resident Yany Lebron.
Lebron posted photos on Facebook of the wreckage in her hometown, Juncos, Puerto Rico, as she received the images from family members. Lebron wrote she is heartbroken that her “poor island has been destroyed.” Figueroa also used Facebook on Thursday to share his connection to the people in Puerto Rico: “May God be the one who takes control over my family, friends and compatriots of my island of charm!”
On Wednesday, Lebron used the platform to express the difficulty she has communicating with her family members.
“At this point all family members that lived out of Puerto Rico are all stressing,” Lebron wrote. “It gets very frustrating not knowing how our loved ones are doing so please be patient with us.”
Celebrities who have ties to Puerto Rico in the U.S. are also voicing their concern over the situation in Puerto Rico. Jennifer Lopez posted on Instagram Thursday night that she still hasn’t heard from her family that live on the island. The singer, who was born in the Bronx, New York, to Puerto Rican parents, used Instagram to urge her fans to support and donate towards Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
“What’s on my mind is what’s going on in Puerto Rico. The devastation is beyond belief,” JLo said in an Instagram video. “Me and my cousin still haven’t been able to hear from our families over there.”
Rosselló also expressed difficulty communicating with people across the island when he spoke to CNN on Wednesday. He said there is only one known casualty in Puerto Rico resulting from Hurricane Maria: A man was hit by a board that had been torn from a house due to the storm’s high-speed winds.
But Rosselló added that he is not yet aware of all the storm’s impacts.
“We still don’t have a lot of information,” Rosselló told CNN on Wednesday. “We’re virtually disconnected in terms of communications with the southeast part of the island.”
A week after Irma hit, all but six percent of cell sites had been recovered. This time it will likely take longer.
“Unfortunately, getting Puerto Rico’s communications networks up and running will be a challenging process, particularly given the power outages,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told the Wall Street Journal.
For ways to help victims of Hurricane Maria, here are some verified organizations assisting in the efforts.