MARIA: Dam failing in Puerto Rico; how you can help island

By News 13 Team Coverage,
Last Updated: Friday, September 22, 2017, 5:44 PM EDT

A dam in northwestern Puerto Rico began to fail Friday afternoon, causing "extremely dangerous" flash flooding and forcing people to evacuate.


▼ JUMP TO ▼: Watch a replay of our Facebook Live with anchor Ybeth Bruzual and guests Puerto Rican Olympian Andrés Arroyo and Luis Figueroa, the former regional director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration


The Guajataca Dam near Isabela Municipality and Quebradillas Municipality was failing, causing flooding downstream on the Guajataca River, the National Weather Service in San Juan reported via Twitter.

The weather service called it an "extremely dangerous" situation, saying that buses were evacuating people from the area as fas as they could.

The municipalities are in the far northwestern region of the island.

Puerto Rico was still entirely without power and running water since Thursday, when Maria slammed into the island as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds.

U.S. military officials say it is still impossible to know how long it will take for communication and power to be restored in Puerto Rico.

Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Derek P. Rydholm said at the Pentagon on Friday that the military is flying in mobile communications systems to assist. Still, he acknowledged that based on the volume of power outages, it will be some time before people in Puerto Rico will be able to communicate with their families outside the island.

Brig. Gen. Diana Holland of the Army Corps of Engineers says that 95-100 percent of the island is still without power.

Until today, Rydholm said, “there was no real understanding at all of the gravity of the situation.”

Rydholm and Holland both said that so far they were not aware of any security problems such as looting in Puerto Rico.

Residents try to cope without power, water

The loss of power left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some contemplated leaving the island.

“You cannot live here without power,” said Hector Llanos, a 78-year-old retired New York police officer who planned to leave Saturday for the U.S. mainland to live there temporarily.

Like many Puerto Ricans, Llanos does not have a generator or gas stove. “The only thing I have is a flashlight,” he said, shaking his head. “This is never going to return to normal.”

Puerto Rico's electrical grid was in sorry shape long before Maria — and Hurricane Irma two weeks ago — struck.

The territory’s $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies such as the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

“We knew this was going to happen given the vulnerable infrastructure,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would open an air bridge from the mainland on Friday, with three to four military planes flying to the island every day carrying water, food, generators and temporary shelters.

President Donald Trump says Puerto Rico was "absolutely obliterated" and the Virgin Islands were "flattened" by both hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years.

Airlines resumed at least partial service to the island on Friday. American Airlines resumed partial operations to San Juan on Friday, and two flights took off for the island from Miami. Spirit Airlines was planning to resume flights to San Juan on Friday as well.

From Orlando International Airport, two connecting Spirit and American Airlines flights were still on schedule. But for the most part, many flights were still canceled.

All of the airlines had initially canceled flights throughout Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Southwest says it is still monitoring safety conditions as wind and rain are still threatening the island. JetBlue says it is looking at those conditions as well.

Scheduled customers were urged to go to their website to check the status of their flights.

Looking for a loved one

If you need help finding a loved one in the Caribbean, email MariaEmergencyUSC@state.gov and provide as much information as possible about your loved one, including full name, gender and last known location.

You can also call the State Department at 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. and Canada).

People looking for family in Puerto Rico can try the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Hurricane Hotline: 202-778-0710.

Also, the American Red Cross is asking people to register themselves as "Safe and Well" on the Red Cross website. People can also search for loved ones there. 

The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has launched a charitable giving website for Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria recovery called Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief.

A public Facebook group has been established for Puerto Rico updates at https://www.facebook.com/groups/153188931945861/.

(These sites and links are not affiliated with Bay News 9 or News 13.)

Central Florida area

There are a number of dropoff locations in Orlando and Kissimmee. Things you can donate: Drinking water, disposable plates, disposable cups, disposable cutlery, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, first aid kit, tent, sleeping bags, bed sheets, clothes, diapers, baby wipes, baby formula and medication such as ibuprofen.

Drop off location for items:

  • Puerto Rican Government
    15 South Orlando Avenue
    Kissimmee, FL 34741
  • Acacia Florida Centro Borinqueño
    1865 North Econlockhatchee Trail
    Orlando, FL 32817
  • Rego Tile Inc
    1770 E Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy
    Kissimmee, FL 34744

Financial donations:

  • Harbor Community Bank (Any location)
    Checks can be made to CASA

You may deduct these charitable contributions.

You can also make a cash donation to the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration's website, at UnitedforPuertoRico.com

Find more information on helping rebuild Puerto Rico on the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration website, or the U.S. State Department.

Global Giving is hoping to raise $2 million for relief efforts in the Caribbean, including for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The group says the money will go exclusively to relief and recovery efforts in the Caribbean, through local nonprofit partners. You can donate on the Global Giving website.

Unicef is also collecting donations for the Caribbean relief efforts post Irma and Maria. Check out the Unicef website.

Americares is sending medicine and other aid to local health providers. Find out how to donate on the Americares website.

Basketball star Tim Duncan, a native of St. Croix, has started a fund to help the U.S. Virgin Islands post-Maria. Head to 21 US Virgin Island Hurricane Help for more information.

The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands has put together a relief effort site with the latest updates and links to find out what is happening and how you can help the Virgin Islands. Head to USVI Recovery.org.

Happy Paws Pet Resort will be collecting items of immediate need. The Lower Keys donations will be delivered personally to human and dog shelters by Happy Paws employees with transportation provided by Spektrum Logistics. The Puerto Rico donations will be flown by private charter sponsored by Headquarter Honda.

Here is a list of immediate items needed (Amazon idea list: http://a.co/8eAaTte -- please have them delivered to Happy Paws within the collection dates of Friday 9/22 through Friday 9/29.

Water
Water filters
Dog & Cat food can and dry
Manual can openers
Canned & Baby Food
Baby & Adult Diapers (All sizes)
Baby wipes
Hand sanitizer
Cleaning supplies
Batteries
Toilet paper
Shop towels for cleaning
Gloves
Battery operated Lanterns
First Aid supplies
Toiletries (toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, deodorant, etc.)

(These sites and links are not affiliated with Bay News 9 or News 13.)

Tampa Bay area

A Puerto Rico hurricane relief drive hosted by 92.5 MAXIMA (WYUU-FM) and Walmart is being held this weekend in Tampa.

The drive is from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at these sites:

  • Walmart at 8220 N. Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, 33614 (Saturday)
  • Walmart at 1505 N. Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, 33607 (Sunday)

The groups have teamed with CaringForPuertoRico.org, which will deliver supplies via cargo plane to Puerto Rico. Suddath Moving Company of Tampa has donated trucks for the transportation and cargo of the donated items.

Santiago Therapy Center in Tampa will begin collecting donations to send over to Puerto Rico effective immediately. They are making arrangements with the local airlines to arrange delivery. Contact them for more information and what supplies they are looking for.

Tampa's Without Walls International Church is accepting supplies through Sunday afternoon to take to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief.

They are in need of the following items:

  • Water
  • MRE's
  • Battery lanterns
  • Manual can openers
  • First aid kits
  • Plenty of batteries and flashlights
  • Matches
  • Candles
  • Duct tape
  • Battery operated radios
  • Insect repellent
  • Soap and hygiene products
  • Cell phone portable chargers
  • Non perishable foods

They say they need things like water, baby formula, canned food and clothes.

Anyone who would like to contribute, can bring donations and supplies to
4414 N. Grady Ave., Tampa, FL, 33614
 
Items can be dropped off Thursday until 9 p.m. along with these times:
Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday 7 a.m.-10 a.m.
Sunday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

(These sites and links are not affiliated with Bay News 9 or News 13.)

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.