Puerto Ricans in Omaha desperate to send help to island

OMAHA, (Neb.) KMTV -

Melina Arroyo from Omaha has spent the last few days feeling helpless.

“This was five long days of hell. Wondering where my mom is. I can hear her voice. And I'm wondering if she's okay, does she have water, does she have food? Is she safe?” said Arroyo.

Arroyo is one of many Puerto Ricans in Omaha thinking of their loved ones, stranded on the island with their homes destroyed and without power or food.

“Facebook and social media are the only way we’ve been able to get some information. All the news outlets and towers are down back home – there’s no phones, no way to get a hold of our families. It’s all videos on Facebook and hear say, hoping to get some information on our families,” said Arroyo.

Arroyo spent five days without hearing from her mom. She finally received word from a niece over the weekend that her mom was okay. But now, she’s waiting to hear from her brother and his family, whom she hasn’t heard from since last Tuesday.

Others, like Joel Ortiz have spent sleepless nights, holding their phone tight, hoping to get a call with information on his two young sons, who live in Puerto Rico with their mom and stepdad.

“I spoke to my ex wife last week and then the power went out right before the storm hit. So I thought, okay, maybe in an hour she’ll call me back. But then that hour turned into 24 hours, and then 48 hours. Finally, the first I’ve heard from them was yesterday,” said Ortiz. “I’ve been crying a lot, and not just the first day, but many days. Just wondering where my kids are.”

Ortiz says Hurricane Maria destroyed their home; the roof and walls collapsed, and water flooded the house, destroying their furniture and clothes.

“Despite everything, it felt like I won the lottery knowing that my kids were safe,” added Ortiz. “But it’s a mix of emotions because I know they’re physically okay, but they’ve lost everything.”

Ortiz is raising funds to help bring his kids back to Omaha to rebuild from all they lost in Puerto Rico.

Now that there’s some communication between the mainland and the island, Arroyo and Ortiz, among others, are starting to collect toiletries to send back home.

“They’re going to be out of many basic items for a long time. Electrical power isn’t even going to be available for months. So they need many basic items,” said Alma Ramos Gilbert, who also has family in Puerto Rico. “We’re collecting bottled water, can openers, pillows, towels; things that can help these families survive a little longer.”

The group is asking people drop off items at the Liberty Tax Service office location at 2734 S. 123rd Ct. #156 and Salon Nouveau at 1917 Missouri Ave. in Omaha while they find a way to transport the items to the island.

A fundraising event is also being organized for mid-October.

If you would like to get in contact with the group, you can contact Elie Berchal at 402-215-1375 or Alma Ramos at 347-231-8515.

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