Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Puerto Ricans in Tampa Bay wait with dread as Hurricane Maria approaches island

TAMPA — As Hurricane Maria swirled in the Atlantic Ocean, Sarykarmen Rivera got a call from her parents in Puerto Rico. They had an ominous message.

We think it's going to make a direct hit here.

"I try to be the strong daughter, but I have to admit I started sobbing when I hung up the phone," Rivera, a Riverview journalist and on-air personality for iHeart Radio's Rumba 106.5, said Tuesday about the weekend phone call. "I told my husband that this is the big one that people have been talking about for years."

As Maria takes aim at Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of anxious family members and friends in the Tampa Bay area are watching from afar with a feeling of dread.

Hillsborough County alone is home to more than 111,000 Puerto Ricans, second only to Orange County in Florida. There are more than 1 million Puerto Ricans living in the state.

Anxiety levels have surged since Maria strengthened into a monster. As of Tuesday evening, the "potentially catastrophic" storm was expected to make landfall on Puerto Rico's southern coast early today as a Category 4 or 5, with winds as high as 160 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The forecast path shows the storm cutting across the center of the island.

It would be the first time a storm of such intensity hit the U.S. commonwealth in 85 years and less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma struck a glan­cing blow by tracking just off the island's northern coast.

Maria looks far more dangerous. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has declared a state of emergency, urging residents to prepare for "a force and violence that we haven't seen for several generations." And President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for the island to aid with federal assistance.

"I'm scared for everybody over there," said Tatiana Cox-Lopez, an Oldsmar resident who was born in Puerto Rico and, like her husband, still has family and friends there. "Nobody in our generation has experienced a Category 5 and don't understand the magnitude of this. They think, 'We did okay with Irma,' but Irma didn't cut through the island."

Cox-Lopez's octogenarian grandparents live in San Juan and only recently got their power and water services restored after Irma. Cox-Lopez offered to fly them to Florida, but her grandmother refused. She didn't want to make the three-hour trip. Other friends and family also declined the offer.

"We have a lot of faith, but you've got to prepare," Cox-Lopez said. "Prayers alone are not going to save you. You have to help yourself."

But less than two weeks after Irma, preparing is harder in Puerto Rico. Shelves emptied ahead of that storm are still empty. Gas, plywood, food and water are in short supply. And Maria strengthened rapidly, leaving precious little time to get ready.

"They're already crippled," said Aileen Rodriguez, vice president of Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc. and a native of San Juan who still has friends and family on the island. "They didn't have a lot of prep time and they're still in recovery from Irma, so it's a double whammy."

Puerto Ricans watching from afar are taking some hope from the many concrete structures on the island. But forecasters are calling for life-threatening flooding and storm surge.

Rivera, the Riverview radio personality, is worried about a river and creek near her parents' home in Guayama, a city on the island's southern coast. Her grandmother lives in a nursing home even closer to the creek.

Rivera has vivid childhood memories of the devastating flooding that happened during Hurricane Hortense in 1996.

"I remember the river sweeping houses away," she said.

Along with the mainlanders' dread comes a feeling of helplessness. During and immediately after the storm, they can do little but compulsively check social media and try to connect by phone to hear whether their loved ones are safe.

Once the hurricane passes, though, they will spring into action. Care packages are one way to help.

"I'll call my brother and say, "What can I send you?' " said Maribel Garrett, assistant dean of student services for Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to Florida in 1992. "It's just one of those things where we'll cross that bridge when we come to it and see how bad it is, and hopefully how bad it isn't."

Elizabeth Lorenzo, a senior at the University of South Florida and a member of the Boricua Student Association, said that group is already brainstorming about ways to raise money to help the island after the storm passes. The group in the past had success selling traditional Puerto Rican fare on campus, including the Lorenzo family's homemade pasteles, flaky pastries stuffed with meat.

Lorenzo's father lives in Rincon, a town on the island's western coast, and plans to evacuate his wooden home and ride out the storm with his mother, who lives in a sturdier home in the same town. She spoke with him Tuesday to tell him she loved him and to make sure he had what he needed to ride out the storm.

"Puerto Ricans in general are really resilient people," she said. "I know we'll be able to get through it."

But local Puerto Ricans say they are also members of a larger Latino diaspora in the Tampa Bay area that rallies to help one another in times of need.

"We're all in this together," Rivera said. "Now is the time to bring it home to Puerto Rico."

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Comments
Romano: You better hope Iím wrong about flood insurance

Romano: You better hope Iím wrong about flood insurance

Chances are, Iíll go down as the Boy Who Cried Flood.You might have noticed, Iíve been shouting about the imminent calamity of flood waters for quite a few years now. If I wasnít trying to frighten you into buying flood insurance, I was worrying you ...
Published: 06/22/18

Forecast: Muggy and hot with a chance of rain for Pride festivities

As the first weekend of summer swings in, it appears Tampa Bay should expect more heat, humidity and a chance of afternoon showers.Increased moisture in the Gulf of Mexico will result in scattered showers and isolated storms for coastal areas of Tamp...
Published: 06/22/18
Forecast: Hot and humid on summerís eve across Tampa Bay, with rain chances increasing

Forecast: Hot and humid on summerís eve across Tampa Bay, with rain chances increasing

Wednesday will be the longest day of the year, literally, as the day before the official start of summer yields the most amount of sunshine.Tampa Bay has already seen lots of sunshine, heat and humidity this year, and while that sunshine may be obscu...
Published: 06/20/18
Forecast: High humidity, searing temperatures and little rain across Tampa Bay

Forecast: High humidity, searing temperatures and little rain across Tampa Bay

Dry air will keep rain chances down Tuesday, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your afternoon plans.While showers will be at a minimum, the searing heat wonít be as high humidity and mostly sunny skies will push the heat index at ar nea...
Published: 06/19/18
Forecast: Hot and humid across Tampa Bay, with potentially wet weekend

Forecast: Hot and humid across Tampa Bay, with potentially wet weekend

Summer officially doesn’t start for another three days, but that won’t stop the searing temperatures and stifling humidity from making for a hot and sticky week across Tampa Bay. Temperatures will climb well into the 90s — and feel...
Published: 06/18/18
Forecast: Plenty of sunshine for Fatherís Day with small chances of isolated showers

Forecast: Plenty of sunshine for Fatherís Day with small chances of isolated showers

As the week comes to a close, Tampa Bay can expect some pretty standard summer-like days with highs near the 90s and afternoon showers popping up around the bay.Friday morning, Tampa Bay will rise with a lot of sunshine. Some scattered showers may dr...
Published: 06/15/18
Strong winds from Tropical Storm Bud hit Mexicoís Los Cabos

Strong winds from Tropical Storm Bud hit Mexicoís Los Cabos

SAN JOSE DEL CABO, Mexico ó Tropical Storm Bud lashed the southern end of Mexicoís Baja California Peninsula, home to the popular beach resorts of Los Cabos, with heavy winds Thursday as locals and tourists braced for an expected landfall later in th...
Published: 06/14/18
Check out this waterspout that formed in waters off Egmont Key

Check out this waterspout that formed in waters off Egmont Key

ST. PETERSBURG ó While the chance for an isolated shower or thunderstorm along the coast will remain just that this week, that doesnít preclude the possibility a strong cell could form in the morning.That exact scenario occurred Thursday morning as T...
Published: 06/14/18
Forecast: Early taste of summer for Fatherís Day across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Early taste of summer for Fatherís Day across Tampa Bay

Summer officially starts one week from today, but the familiar summertime pattern is firmly intact across Tampa Bay.That means warm days, high humidity and a small chance for an isolated popup afternoon storm. In other words, a great opportunity to h...
Published: 06/14/18
Forecast: Hot days, scattered showers are still the rule across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Hot days, scattered showers are still the rule across Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay should continue seeing summer-like days through the rest of the week with sunny, partly cloudy skies and a chance for pop-up afternoon showers.A light westerly flow off the Gulf of Mexico will help push coastal breezes further inland, carry...
Published: 06/13/18