SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBSNewYork/AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy says initial damage assessments and power restoration efforts have begun on Puerto Rico after it was battered by Hurricane Maria.
The agency said Sunday that it is coordinating with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, FEMA and a team from the New York Power Authority, including the use of drones and helicopters. Restoration efforts to some critical facilities are underway.
Puerto Rico’s governor saidpower has been restored to the main medical center on the island.
An eight-member team from the Energy Department’s Western Area Power Authority that was deployed to Puerto Rico ahead of the storm and assisted with initial damage assessments has been redeployed to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Energy Department says additional DOE responders are prepared to deploy to Puerto Rico and will do so as soon as transportation can be arranged.
Eighty percent of the island’s cellphone towers were damaged by the storm, leaving residents still scrambling to contact loved ones and across the island, there are mile-long lines with people waiting to buy fuel.
San Juan’s main airport looked like a shelter, with hundreds of people sleeping on their suitcases.
“It’s just tough, it’s hot constantly, there’s nowhere to lie down,” UK resident Sue Parker said.
As resources are running out, people are growing desperate.
“The food is not enough, the gas is not enough. So everybody is fighting to get whatever is available,” one woman said.
On the northwestern corner of the island, officials worry a 90-year-old dam is in danger of breaching after Maria dropped more than 15 inches of rain.
Seventy-thousand people were warned of flash flooding, and the mayor of Isabela ordered all residents to evacuate.
Mayor Carlos Delgado said a dam failure would be catastrophic for people living in his city of Isabela and other towns that rely on this for drinking water.
Meanwhile, New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez has been named by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to co-chair a state effort to support Puerto Rico’s recovery.
“For New Yorkers, Puerto Ricans are family – for some figuratively and, for many of us, literally,” Velazquez said. “New Yorkers take care of their family.”
She says that she and others in the New York congressional delegation will be advocating for federal funding to swiftly repair and rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, help small businesses recover and address other problems.
Lack of electricity, and the struggle to communicate has left many New Yorkers wondering how their friends and family members are doing.
Richard Robles has a number of aunts, uncles, and cousins who live in Puerto Rico.
“We’ve tried in a couple of different ways like WiFi and all that, but to no avail,” he said.
Instead of just waiting to make contact, he’s gathering items to help with relief efforts.
Robert Cintron told CBS2’s Elise Finch he was able to connect with a relative on social media, so he’s donating the items they specifically asked for.
“Clothes, pampers, water, everything for kids,” he said.
Drinking water is so scarce some people have been collecting it on the side of the road.
There is no electricity and no phone service, landline or cellular.
Even though hundreds of people flocked to cell towers trying desperately to get a signal so they can call and let loved ones know they’re okay.
People were waiting in long lines to buy pretty much everything.
New York’s elected officials have made it easy for people to donate, designating drop off locations like a firehouse on East 111th Street.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is helpong on the ground in San Juan where she was born and raised.
She’s partnered with the non-profit ‘Hispanic Federation.’
President Jose Calderon said his organization is fundraising aggressively right now to buy the things that can’t be donated.
“If we need a shipment of blue tarps to cover homes and protect structures because the roofs are gone then we can do that. It allows us greater flexibility, it also allows us to do long term planning,” he said.
Calderon said it will take years to rebuild Puerto Rico.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)