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The Scene In Puerto Rico

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And the power grid is still out across the entire island of Puerto Rico this morning. When the hurricane hit the island earlier this week, it knocked over trees, pulled doors off houses. And now the island's 3 and a half million people are without electricity. And communications have been sketchy. Cell service in some of the bigger cities is beginning to return. That is how Samantha Schmidt is joining us. She is a reporter from The Washington Post. And she's on the line from San Juan. Samantha, good morning.

SAMANTHA SCHMIDT: Good morning, David. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for taking the time for us. We appreciate it. Could you just paint a portrait for our listeners of what things look like there as you wander the streets?

SCHMIDT: Yeah, definitely. Yesterday was the first time we got to kind of get a sense of the damage because the day before, you know, most people hadn't left their homes until the evening. But yesterday, we started to see that some parts of the city of San Juan are - you know, the streets are starting to get cleared out of trees, of debris. But there are still parts - yesterday, the officials were still in rescue mode in the morning in certain parts, specifically a neighborhood I visited in the municipality of Toa Baja, which is a suburb of San Juan.

And they had thought - you know, after the hurricane had passed on Wednesday evening, they thought everything was over. And then all of their homes - the majority of their homes - flooded in this specific neighborhood called Levittown. And it was because an artificial lake in their neighborhood had overflowed after there had been the gates for this lake and river up - or in the center of the island - had been opened. And so...

GREENE: Oh, wow. So just when you think the storm has gone away...

SCHMIDT: Yes.

GREENE: ...I mean, the hazards could still be there. Is that the case in a lot of places?

SCHMIDT: It's hard to tell. And that's the biggest challenge here - is that, you know, most of the reports have been coming out of San Juan because that's where most of the reporters are. That's where most of the connection is. There are a lot of reporters in other parts of the country, specifically locals. But they've been struggling to even file their reports and their photographs. So it's been really hard to get - and that's where we expected most of the damage - was in the center part of the island where there's a mountainous region. But they were expecting a lot more damage there and in other parts of the coast. So it's still - I mean, just today is still going to be a matter of trying to figure out how the rest of the country is faring.

GREENE: And family members, right? I mean, have people, like, in San Juan been able to reach family members in different parts of the island that - and find out how they're doing...

SCHMIDT: No.

GREENE: ...If they made it through this?

SCHMIDT: It's been really terrifying. And I'm surprised that people have remained as calm as they have because, I mean, even just driving around yesterday in that neighborhood, there were people, like, lowering their windows, asking if they've seen their loved ones because in that scenario, some people have been taken to shelters. And some people were still stranded in their homes, trying to get out because the streets were flooded. And a lot of them were elderly. And they don't have ways out.

And, you know, there's no - there's basically no way of communicating in this country. And there's no way of reaching officials to ask for help. There have been family members - even as, you know, late last night that I was talking to people, they still hadn't heard from their family members on the other end of the island. So it's it's really terrifying still.

GREENE: Samantha Schmidt is a reporter for The Washington Post. And she is joining us from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where communication in Puerto Rico is still very sketchy, as she told us, and the island is still without power, which could be the case for months, it sounds like. Samantha, thanks for the time.

SCHMIDT: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.