Luke DeCock

Triangle athletes can only agonize as their families struggle after Caribbean hurricanes

N.C. Central volleyball players Nahir (left) and Natasha Berrios Laguerre (left) grew up in Puerto Rico before moving to Raleigh.
N.C. Central volleyball players Nahir (left) and Natasha Berrios Laguerre (left) grew up in Puerto Rico before moving to Raleigh. Luke DeCock

The not knowing is the hardest part. Every once in a while, Raydell Denis’ phone rings and it’s one of his two brothers calling from St. Croix, where the family home survived Hurricane Maria but there’s no water or power and long lines for food. And the St. Augustine’s basketball player is lucky his brother has Sprint, which still works, instead of AT&T, which does not. St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, was mostly spared by Irma, which hit St. Thomas and St. John, only to end up in the path of Maria.

And his other brother? He knows he’s OK, but that’s all.

“I haven’t heard his voice since the hurricane hit,” Denis said.

At N.C. Central, volleyball players Natasha and Nahir Berrios Laguerre hear occasionally from their cousin Victor in Puerto Rico, when he has access to an emergency phone at a shelter. The twins moved to Raleigh a few years ago and graduated from Sanderson, but their extended family remains in flooded Caguas, south of San Juan. The situation there, after a direct hit from Maria, is the same: no water, no power, very little food.

“At this point, all I need is contact,” Natasha Berrios Laguerre said. “For now, all I’ve had is little information. I know, because I’ve been going to the newspaper. … The anxiousness just builds up. You have no idea what to do. And you’re here, you don’t have the money to fly over and help. All you can do is sit back and wait.”

“And pray,” Nahir added.

For these Triangle athletes, their sadness over the devastation on their home islands has been compounded by the uncertainty and distance, not to mention a sense that their friends and families have been left behind in the wake of the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida. Only now, almost a week since Maria caused immense wind damage and flooding, particularly in Puerto Rico, are FEMA and military relief efforts starting to deliver supplies and make repairs.

It could be months before power and cell service are restored. Their families have nowhere to go; they can’t get on a bus and the airports are all either closed or open only for humanitarian flights.

“I think about it every day,” Denis said. “I just pray and hope things get back to normal. My first plan was, if the airport wasn’t broke down, my brothers could just come and stay with me, because I live off campus in an apartment.”

So they scour Facebook and the internet for news and wait for the unexpected call with word from their families, all the while trying to go about their normal, everyday college routine. The Berrios Laguerre sisters can at least direct their energies somewhere: N.C. Central is holding a hurricane relief drive at Thursday night’s volleyball game against N.C. A&T, collecting supplies like clothing, water, trash bags and batteries to donate to relief efforts. That was already being planned before Maria hit Puerto Rico, but suddenly became very personal.

“We’re going to send it out and that’s our mission,” Natasha Berrios Laguerre said.

They’re all just trying to get the word out, to let people know that there are Americans suffering who need help, and not just in Texas and Florida.

“We’re small,” Denis said. “America is a lot bigger. Even how big a hurricane is, there are certain places here that are going to get lucky. There’s always more resources. You can drive out of town and get food or water. (In St. Croix), when we’re messed up, that’s it for us. We can’t go anywhere else. I love America, but that’s home. I just hope it can get back to being the beautiful island I was born and raised on.”

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947,, @LukeDeCock

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