CHIPLEY - Like many who have family in Puerto Rico, Chipley High School teacher Jorge Bauzo finds himself waiting for word from his loved ones.
Bauzo, who teaches Spanish I and Spanish II, as well as leads the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, says while he has heard from one of his brothers, he still has had no communication with his mother, 79-year-old Sonia Osorio, or from the brother with whom his mother was staying as Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico.
Fajardo, the city where Bauzo last knew his mother to be, was completely flooded, as was most of Puerto Rico.
With sustained winds of 155 mph at landfall, Maria was a strong Category 4 storm - nearly a Category 5 — and was so powerful that it disabled radar, weather stations and cell towers across Puerto Rico, leaving an information vacuum in which officials could only speculate about property damage, injuries or deaths. As of Tuesday, the known death toll was ten.
"I'm just waiting and praying," said Bauzo. "As of today, I do not know the condition of my own family since Puerto Rico lost a hundred percent of both communication and electricity. What is known is that thousands of people have lost their homes, vehicles, belongings, and their way of life."
Although he is waiting for word from his mother, Bauzo is not waiting idly, having mobilized a local effort for relief, led by his AVID students, who are collecting items for those affected.
"The recent event of Hurricane Maria affecting the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, has been catastrophic," he said. "Our Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Island brothers and sisters have been impacted by this most devastating natural event in history. Through video footage, we see that rivers have overflowed to historic levels causing bridges to collapse. Because of this devastation, hospitals and more than 500 shelters need our help."
In coordination with the CASA project in Orlando and local AVID students, Bauzo is collecting items, which may be dropped off through Friday, September 29, at Chipley High School or Nails and More by Sue, located at 798 Main Street in Chipley.
Items needed include: disposable plates, cups, cutlery, personal hygiene items such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, first aid kits, general medicine such as antibiotic cream, and ibuprofen, sleeping bags, bed sheets (any size), pajamas for all age and sizes, diapers, baby formula, and batteries.
AVID student Ethan Clark says while the organization is glad to help all those in need, the students are especially worried about the popular CHS teacher.
"When [Bauzo] came to school [the day after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico], we could tell he was upset," said Clark. "All my family lives in Florida, and hurricanes are a very common thing. All I could think was, 'What if that was my family? What if I didn't live in Florida anymore and a hurricane hit here, and I couldn't reach anyone?' I think Mr. Bauzo is amazing for helping others, even while he is concerned about his own family, and we definitely want to help them."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.