People across the suburbs were sick with worry Wednesday about their relatives in Puerto Rico, where a widespread power outage made it impossible to communicate with the island pummeled by Hurricane Maria.
Maria made direct landfall on the eastern side of Puerto Rico Wednesday as the first Category 4 or higher hurricane to do so in 85 years. It later weakened to a Category 3, but that was little consolation to those who desperately tried to get information from their loved ones as reports of devastation began to emerge.
Marilia Gutierrez was up at 3 a.m. Wednesday so she could communicate with her sister Janice as the full force of the hurricane bore down on the town of Juncos, in the easternmost part of Puerto Rico.
The last time she heard from her sister was in a text message at 3:40 a.m. in which Janice described the storm as "a monster."
"I'm scared," said Marilia Gutierrez, who lives in Chicago and works as an interpreter for Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59. "I don't know anything. They are going through a complete blackout. No power and no communication."
Bruce Garcia of Elgin last talked to his relatives in Puerto Rico -- uncles, cousins and a grandfather -- on Monday as they were getting together stores of food and water. They live in the west side of Puerto Rico by the town of Aguadilla.
Garcia said he tried to reach them Wednesday via phone, text message and messaging apps, but got no response.
He is especially worried about relatives who live in wooden houses that could be blown away by the force of the winds or swept away by mudslides.
"Nothing goes through, as far as I know," he said. "You're like in suspense because you don't really know what's going on without actually being there. All you know is what you see on TV, which makes it harder."
'We will keep trying'
Maria Ramos of Carol Stream tried to reach her relatives all day Wednesday. She got through to her aunt on a landline at about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Hurricane Maria "was just hitting them and she was afraid," Ramos said. "Everyone else that has a cell, I tried calling and I cannot reach them."
Many of her relatives live in Hormigueros, in the westernmost region of Puerto Rico. They got a lot of rain and some flooding in the wake of Hurricane Irma two weeks ago, but they knew Maria was going to be much more powerful, she said.
Her sister-in-law and her family prepared by tying and nailing down furniture, she said.
"We are worried, because we have no connection to them," she said. "We will keep trying them until we hear from them. "