SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - An estimated five million Puerto Ricans now live in what is considered "stateside."
Thousands of them are just waiting for the right opening to head south to check on family still suffering on the decimated island. One local businessman is not waiting. In fact, is flight leaves Savannah first thing Wednesday morning. While his family is safe, he is convinced his place of birth is moving closer to chaos with every passing day.
We live in a very connected world, where expectations are that home, no matter where it exists, is a short flight or a quick call away. Hurricane Maria showed nearly four million Americans in Puerto Rico how tough it can be when those lines are cut, and perhaps worse when the effort to repair them is perceived as slow in coming.
At Blends Coffee Boutique on Broughton, owner Javier Carro has waited long enough. His home and business outside San Juan were flooded and left powerless two weeks ago. Landslides cut off access to his neighborhood. Wednesday morning, what is among the first regular commercial flights heading back leaves at daybreak, and he'll be on it.
"Foliage, houses, communities. There are no bridges, there is no way to communicate with some other communities, so it's going to be scary," Carro said.
Expectations for the trip home are low, to say the least, but Javier is one of those guys who has always felt a tight kinship with the American community that deepens in desperate times. Yes, Puerto Rico is one of his homes, but his connection to this tragedy and previous ones always seems to put him on a plane somewhere.
"When Katrina happened, I was in Puerto Rico and I was working for Bacardi, and I was curating a group to go and help in Katrina, so for me, it's something that as we, I don't want to say, humans, but we as a community, as people, have to go where there is a need," he said.
Given the time that has already passed since Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, this tragedy is giving Javier an uneasy feeling about, perhaps, the near future. While help is now pouring in and getting better distributed, the delay in making Puerto Rico a national priority may have already started pushing the island into a state of chaos.
"Everybody is safe, but if we don't get help soon or something more normal than what we currently have, people are going to start getting desperate. We saw it here with Irma, people in the middle of the hurricane, even though they were not desperate, they were looting and stealing and doing things they shouldn't," Carro said.
Blends is one of four local businesses that has been shipping supplies to Puerto Rico for the last two weeks. Hunter Army Airfield receives collections every few days. Javier will attempt to keep that supply line open long after his trip to whatever is left of home.
Carro certainly hopes the president's visit to the island will put Puerto Rico higher on the federal priority list, and though he says he has yet to put his foot back on the island, he says he's seen enough to know that recovery at his first home is months - even years - away.