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Around The Fleet

Hurricane Maria Hits Home

Nimitz Sailor worries for his family

Three weeks ago, as Aviation Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Josue Cordero-Fernandez worked in the jet shop aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Hurricane Maria was gaining momentum, churning in the Atlantic Ocean and barreling toward Puerto Rico.

Cordero-Fernandez contacted his family back in Quebradillas - a small, rural town located on the northwest shore of Puerto Rico. Confident that the storm would miss as many storms had done in the past, he wasn't worried. But as the storm grew closer, Cordero-Fernandez agonized in his rack, unable to sleep for almost a week.

"I lost contact with them the night before it actually hit because communications started going down," said Cordero-Fernandez. Then, Hurricane Maria shredded his island with winds up to 155 mph and torrential downfall. The category 4 storm, the worst Puerto Rico had seen in nearly 80 years, destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power on the island and caused substantial flooding.

The next day when I started seeing pictures, I felt so useless in that moment because I knew I couldn't do anything," said Cordero-Fernandez. "I'm here on deployment."

Over the next few days, he tried over and over to contact his family, but most services on the hurricane-ravaged island were down and he was unable to establish communication. He kept his eyes glued to the TV and computer in his shop, reading and listening to reports about the conditions in Puerto Rico.

"Seeing so much devastation around the island and not being able to get a hold of them, I was just thinking the worst," said Cordero-Fernandez. "There's no way I can send money because I don't have their bank information, can't call them, can't do anything."

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Unable to physically go to the aid of his family, Cordero-Fernandez wanted to find a way to help.

So that's what he did. He went online and began buying essentials like food and water for his mother, siblings and nephew in Quebradillas.

"My first reaction, my first thought was, 'I have to make sure they have food,'" he said. "Even though I don't know anything about what's happening with my family, I'm just going to start buying food and water and sending it back home."

In the days after the storm, some phone and internet companies had service, and offered free hotspots to help people reach their loved ones. After nearly a week of tormenting thoughts, desperately checking social media and frantically calling home, Cordero-Fernandez finally got good news from his family.

"I finally heard from them through Facebook," said Cordero-Fernandez. "It took me around five days to get a hold of them. It was the greatest feeling ever. I felt relief knowing they were OK, that they didn't suffer any property damage and they were alive, which was the most important thing."

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The island began receiving first aid and support from several organizations shortly after the storm hit, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Navy.

"I feel good that the Navy is providing the help we need," said Cordero-Fernandez. "Within the first week, Navy vessels were sent to my island to help out. I think that was a good thing."

October 3, less than two weeks after the storm first devastated the island, the Mercy-class hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived in Puerto Rico with more than 800 Sailors to provide humanitarian support. Other Navy ships that supported humanitarian efforts included USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), USS Wasp (LHD 1), USNS Supply (T-AOE 6) and USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12).

The U.S. Navy continues to support the island of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.