In the dark and isolating days after Hurricane Maria, people across Puerto Rico invented new ways to communicate: Elderly couples in need of food or water would raise a flag at their home. Neighbors created amateur security systems, banging on pots for a minute each night to mark the start of a curfew after which any human noise would be considered a call for help.
With telephone service blown away by the Category 4 hurricane, the governor took to the only radio station still operating and asked listeners to tell the mayors of all 78 municipalities to drive to the capital and update authorities about their needs in person. Access to devastated areas was impossible, and police, firefighters and emergency responders were unable to talk to each other for days.
“The biggest crisis after Maria was communication,” said Nazario Lugo, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Emergency Managers. “That unleashed an endless number of problems.”