Images of debris-filled streets and long lines of hopeful people holding red gas cans flashed on the TV screen above a counter at the Puerto Rico Latin Bar & Grill in Phoenix.
Inside the Phoenix restaurant on Wednesday, owner Wesley Andujar glanced anxiously at the piles of food, water, and other supplies near the back door that awaited transport to the island of Puerto Rico, 3,000 miles away.
"I'm kind of hesitant to keep taking stuff, but I want to help out," Andujar said, looking weary as he sat at one of the restaurant's tables. "Last weekend, a couple drove all the way down here from Sedona with 27 bags of canned foods."
The logistics of helping Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria have been a heavy burden for Andujar, who also has to manage the business near 27th Avenue and Thomas Road. But he feels glad to be part of the disaster-relief effort for the land where he was born.
The bar and grill has become an important link between Arizonans — Puerto Ricans or otherwise — and the storm-battered island that's home to 3.4 million American citizens.
"When the storm hit, people were like, 'Hey, we need to get together,'" Andujar said. "We didn't realize it was going to hit Puerto Rico that hard."
The Category 4 hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and many other Caribbean islands on September 20, causing minimal deaths — so far — but extensive damage that will take years to fix. More than a week later, problems distributing supplies were still unsolved and worries remain that disease and lack of basic necessities would result in a deadly humanitarian crisis.
Andujar's parents moved him to the mainland when he was 6, but he still has family members in Puerto Rico. He hasn't been able to get in touch with them yet. For now, he's helping others.
He offered to use his restaurant as a drop-off point for donated supplies, which have poured in as he's received some attention from the news media. He and other members of Phoenix's Puerto Rican community have coordinated with local truckers to haul the goods to Florida, and with owners of shipping containers in Florida for the final transport across the ocean to Puerto Rico.
"We've had probably 20-something pick-ups of loads of supplies. A trucker who came here donated a trailer to take them to Miami," he said.
A group from Tucson is sending five pallets of beans on Saturday, and Cox Communications has offered space in a warehouse to store them until they can be transported, he said.
Andujar doesn't want to discourage people from sending more items to his restaurant — he'll send off what people donate, he said. But he suggests that people who want to help first consider donating money to relief agencies.
"We don't need any more clothes," Andujar said. "We have tons of water."
His friend, restaurant consultant Edwin Fernandez, said he just hopes the supplies from Arizona get there soon enough for the people who need them.
Fernandez said he has given thousands of dollars to his friends and family members in Puerto Rico. He doesn't think the death toll will rise sharply — the island has plenty of natural water supplies, he said. "But it will be a life of misery" for many of the islanders.
Lack of money, fuel, and decent food could be a problem for months, he fretted, noting that most of the island's agriculture industry has been wiped out. Relatives have told him that the bodies of pigs, sheep, and cattle are rotting in the heat, leading to fears of a coming wave of disease.
Fernandez said he and his late wife went to Haiti to provide aid after the 2010 earthquake, and were appalled at the way government officials snatched up donated supplies. He expects similar problems now in Puerto Rico, in addition to troubles like looters and bandits.
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At about 2:30 p.m., delivery truck owner Eli Rodriguez showed up at the restaurant with another man and helped Andjuar, Fernandez, and a restaurant employee load up the supplies. Rodriguez said the supplies would be transferred to a semi-truck before going on to Jacksonville, Florida.
"It's been overwhelming to get it down there," Andujar said of the donation efforts. "But we'll get it there."
Here's a list of relief agencies and websites with ideas on how you can help Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico: