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SALT LAKE CITY — One week after Hurricane Maria stormed over Puerto Rico, many Utahns from the island are still desperate to contact loved ones and found out how they’re surviving.
As a result, several friends have come together on the Wasatch Front to start collecting money and necessities to fly to Puerto Rico.
“We need help,” said Jeff Mendez, senior vice president of sales at Vivint Smart Home. “We need help from everybody.”
Mendez is one of two executives at Vivint who have family in Puerto Rico. When they found out that other friends of theirs from Puerto Rico were also trying to gather necessities, they joined forces.
“I am from Puerto Rico, so it hits home for me,” Mendez said. “There are 3.5 million American citizens on the island. These are our brothers and sisters.”
Mendez first came to Utah as a student at Brigham Young University. He’s worked as a Vivint executive for a decade. He cannot believe what his family is enduring back home and has only had sporadic phone contact with aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
“The roads are blocked. The roads are broken. Bridges are destroyed,” he said. “You look at the images — it’s dire.”
On Tuesday, Mendez spoke to an aunt for the first time since Maria.
“Her home is gone, but she’s OK,” he said.
Some of Mendez’s friends and associates in Utah are teaming up to help their homeland. Vivint has offered warehouse space for donations and will pay for the cost of flying donations to Puerto Rico.
“With the complete devastation that country has gone through, it’s time to double down, to triple down,” Mendez said.
Dorany Rodriguez, an immigration attorney in South Jordan, knew Mendez when they were younger in Puerto Rico. She hasn’t heard from her elderly parents since Friday, when they drove more than an hour on dwindling gasoline supplies to get cellphone coverage.
“I don’t know what really is going on,” she said. “I want to know that they’re OK, that they’re eating, that they have water and that they have food.”
Rodriguez calls her family every 15 minutes in hopes that she’ll finally reach them. But she can see from an app on her phone that they still have no service and pictures from home intensify her anxiety.
“You can see in their eyes that they’re just scared and we’re worried,” she said.
Rodriguez feels helpless being so far away. An elderly uncle of hers passed away, possibly related to the tough living conditions. It’s upsetting when she considers that her aunt had no medical help to turn to when her uncle was dying, she said.
The roads are blocked. The roads are broken. Bridges are destroyed,” he said. “You look at the images — it’s dire.
“We don’t know exactly what happened. I don’t know if we will ever know,” Rodriguez said.
Mendez said he’s very optimistic about the donations he and his friends are gathering in Utah, but extremely fearful of what is happening on the island.
The group is accepting donations at Vivint Smart Home offices in Lehi and Provo through Saturday. Their greatest needs are drinking water, diapers, baby formula, non-perishable food, camping stoves, propane and generators.
Anyone interested in making donations can drop them off at the Vivint offices in Lehi at 3401 N. Ashton Blvd. and at the offices in Provo at 4949 N. 300 West on Thursday and Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and on Saturday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.