Local families worry about loved ones as Hurricane Maria leaves Puerto Rico


Aerial view of devastation left by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - For those like Jose Matienzo, who lives in Huntsville but was born in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria is a big concern.

Matienzo has lots of family on the island, from San Juan to the beach town of Luquillo on the Eastern side of Puerto Rico. His younger brother lives there. His step-father and many cousins also live in the Commonwealth.

The storm has, for the time being, knocked out power in Puerto Rico. It has been hard to get in touch with his family members, even though he is confident they are safe in the homes where they are sheltering.

"There's not a whole lot you can do. You sit here and wait," said Matienzo. "Even if I wanted to go out there and help tomorrow, I could land there but it would be hard to get anywhere."

It's the silence that turns his stomach and keeps him checking his phone and social media.

"Knowing that the eye went right over their place is nerve-wracking," he said. "But they have the generator and water to survive for a period of time. They are in a place built in such a way that they can wait out the storm," he explained.

Matienzo grew up in Luquillo and loves the island still. When he visits his old home, he remembers the best of Puerto Rico and the way of life there.

"I'll spend all day surfing, body surfing in the water. Or in a hammock, under the palm trees like you see in pictures," he said. "It's perfect. And of course, the food, the music. It all blends into one big culture."

Matienzo knows there will be damage to the place where he grew up.  He said many other families, may have lost have lost their homes. Some of the beaches and trees will not be the same, stripped of the palms and sands shifted.

"The last time something like this happened it changed the landscape for years. It took years to recover," he explained. "I hope the wind damage to the rainforest is minimal. The native animals' ecosystem will be affected by this."

This is an island known to many for tourism. People come to Puerto Rico to experience all Matienzo loves about his home.

Through it all, Matienzo knows the Puerto Ricans are strong. He says he has no doubt they will overcome what Maria has brought.

"The people are very, very tough," he noted. "We've dealt with this and we'll continue to deal with this."

He hopes people will now begin to help the island and that soon tourists can go back to experience the beauty it has to offer.

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