As millions continue to cope with widespread power outages in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, three sisters from the Philadelphia area received a much-needed lifeline thanks to a phone call that happened by chance.
Robert Martinez and his wife, who currently live in Abington, Pennsylvania, visited their home in Puerto Rico only days before Category 4 Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20. While the couple rode out the storm, their daughters Ana Nihart of Phoenixville, Katherine Martinez of Philadelphia and Isabelle Martinez of Abington were unable to reach them.
“It was just getting too hard not hearing from them to have to go through that by ourselves,” Katherine Martinez said.
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Yet the fears the sisters had were eased over the weekend with one phone call. Their father happened to run into NBC News reporter Gabe Gutierrez, who was covering the devastation in Isabella, Puerto Rico for a special report.
“It’s frustrating to communicate with our families back home,” Robert Martinez told Gutierrez. “They can’t hear from us. They don’t know what’s going on.”
The NBC News crew allowed Robert Martinez to use a satellite phone and his daughters heard from him for the first time since Maria made landfall. While the call lasted less than two minutes, it was enough for the daughters to know that their parents survived the hurricane.
“Your mom and I are okay,” Robert Martinez told his daughters while fighting back tears.
Communication has been severely limited in Puerto Rico with many people standing on the sides of roads with their cellphones trying to get a signal. Most of the island is still without electricity or running water. The three sisters are grateful however that their parents are alive.
“It was such a relief,” Isabelle Martinez said. “Everything lifted off my body. I just felt like I could breathe again.”
After the phone call, the sisters repeatedly watched the NBC News report featuring their father so that they could see him and hear his voice, unsure of when they’ll get their next chance.
“Feels like the constant reminder,” Isabelle Martinez said. “We still don’t know what’s next and can only hope for the best.”
Officials say Puerto Rico, home to about 3.3 million people, could face months without electricity. Maria also hit two other Caribbean islands hard, killing at least seven people on Dominica and one on Guadeloupe. Click here for information on how to help victims of Maria.