On the 15th day since Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico and left it in dead silence, I finally heard my abuela’s voice.
It was distant, came in crackling spurts, and lasted less than two minutes.
“Estoy bien,” my 98-year-old grandmother Celia Rivera said through my cousin’s cellphone, which got a signal after two weeks of not being able to make or receive calls or texts.
“Las cosas estan bien mala,” she said. “Things are really bad. I don’t have water, telephone service and I can’t use my oxygen machine because there is no electricity.”
Like thousands of other Puerto Ricans in South Florida and across the United States, the waiting to hear from loved ones has been an agonizing experience.
Since Hurricane Maria passed through the island I had been trying to get in touch with my relatives but didn’t have any luck until a few days ago. I was able to speak with my father, Carmelo Santiago, through a friend at his church who was visiting my dad at his home in the Barrio Lomas García, a small town in the mountains in Naranjito in central Puerto Rico. During the brief conversation, my father filled me in on the tough times. That night, my cousin Ivan promised that he would call me as soon as he could get to my grandmother’s house, who lives just a short distance away but getting there was not easy because of the destruction from the storm.
When my cellphone rang at 1 p.m. Thursday and I saw it was my cousin calling, my heart skipped a beat. Hearing my grandmother’s voice offered some relief but it was also terribly sad because there is so little I can do right now to help.
Talking to my grandmother is like hearing my mom, who died unexpectedly in February. They speak exactly the same.
I can’t wait to hear abuela’s voice again. I hope the next call will bring some good news, that she will at least have running water or electricity restored.
David Santiago is a photographer for the Miami Herald Media Co.