'Puerto Rico never recovered from Maria': Smithfield man worries about family after Hurricane Fiona

Akilah Davis Image
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Smithfield man's family affected by Hurricane Fiona
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When Hurricane Fiona first made landfall in Puerto Rico Saturday, Cristhian Espinosa had concerns.

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Hurricane Fiona first made landfall in Puerto Rico on Saturday, Cristhian Espinosa had concerns. The storm system pounded the island with rain and flooding knocking out power and washing away homes.

"Puerto Rico never recovered from Maria," said Espinosa. "Fiona was just rain and it was instantly raining for 20 to 30 hours. People lost cars. People almost drowning because of the landslides. Homes were lost because of landslides. Lot of the roads are completely destroyed."

The Johnston County man's family is there living in Salinas, a southern city on the island. They underestimated the magnitude of the storm and the potential for landslides.

He sent ABC11 photos his parents sent him Tuesday as they crossed bridges to get to his grandfather. The pictures showed rushing river water rising by the hour with families like his racing against the clock to save their loved ones.

FEMA allocated $28 billion to Puerto Rico's rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Maria slammed the island five years ago and it took 18 months to fully restore power. Before restoration, the tourist destination relied on generators.

Phil Harris with the Sandhills Red Cross said several bilingual volunteers across the state are heading there now.

"We're going to rally and run toward the disaster," Harris said. "Their role is damage assessment. They're basically going door to door to find out which homes are livable and which homes are destroyed."

Hurricane Maria left many homeless before and the fear is Fiona could be worse as communication remains an issue with families waiting to hear whether their loved ones are safe or not.

"Money doesn't do anything now. We need to connect with nonprofits either there or here that are willing to go to refugee camps. There are plenty of people who need food, water and clothes," said Espinosa.