As a boy growing up in Puerto Rico, state Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates heard stories from his grandparents of how the San Felipe Segundo hurricane devastated the island in 1928, killing hundreds.
He fears the damage from Hurricane Maria, which was expected to make landfall in the U.S. territory early Wednesday, will be worse.
"There's just this sense of hopelessness," the Chicago-born Crespo said. "We've never seen anything like this."
Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 storm as it bore down Tuesday on Puerto Rico. Destructive winds, torrential rain and coastal flooding are expected.
Crespo's parents and siblings live in Puerto Rico, and they made it safely through Hurricane Irma earlier this month.
"The part of the island where they live fared OK," Crespo said, adding his relatives were without electricity only for a day or so.
Many Puerto Ricans weren't as lucky -- thousands remain without power. And now Hurricane Maria is expected to batter a part of Puerto Rico that's home to power stations serving much of the island, Crespo said.
Other Chicago-area residents with family in Puerto Rico were in contact with those relatives ahead of Maria's arrival, too.
Jacqueline Lozada, spokeswoman for the Aurora Puerto Rican Cultural Council, said she only recently was able to connect with some relatives on the island who were without power for five days after Hurricane Irma.
There are no hurricane shelters where they live and they cannot evacuate, she said.
"All that is left is to wait it out and pray as Maria hits land," said Lozada, of Aurora. "It is terrifying knowing there is nothing we can do, but watch and wait, hoping to hear good news afterward."
Former Bolingbrook resident Robert Sanchez Sr. lives in a mountainous area on the east side of Puerto Rico. He isn't worried about flooding, but the high winds that are coming have him concerned.
The father of Daily Herald Assistant City Editor Robert Sanchez, the elder Sanchez put up storm shutters and will wait out the storm at his sister's house.
He has flashlights, batteries, cases of bottled water and a large tank with an emergency supply of water.
"When it comes through, we don't know what's going to happen," Sanchez said. "We'll see."
Crespo spoke with his parents every couple of hours Tuesday as Hurricane Maria approached. They anticipated flooding and landslides even before the eye of the storm is over the island.
"They've resigned themselves to the fact that they're going to sustain a lot of damage," Crespo said. "There's no escaping it this time."
Crespo said he'll continue to call and text his relatives -- and anxiously await their replies.
"There's nothing you can do but wait," he said. "And then you deal with the aftermath."
Hurricane Maria's potential to affect the United States doesn't end in Puerto Rico. According to forecasters with AccuWeather, the storm could reach the middle or upper part of the East Coast next week.
• Daily Herald Assistant City Editor Robert Sanchez contributed to this report.