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Puerto Ricans in NY worry as Hurricane Irma nears island home

LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan — Irma is now one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded, and it's barreling toward parts of the Caribbean and Southeast U.S. where many people in the Tri-State region have family.

The largest land mass that's most immediately in Irma's sights is Puerto Rico.

Since one in five of Puerto Ricans lives in the New York metro area, the lines of communication between the island commonwealth and our region have heated up in recent days.

Many are also concerned that the 185 mile per hour winds, Irma could knock out communications as the storm gets closer.

"The streets are full of cars," said Teofilo Torres, in San Juan, describing the scene on Tuesday afternoon to his son, Alejandro, who's in New York, via FaceTime. "People are storming the stores, buying everything," he said.

The father-son electronic communication was key, as Irma, a Category 5 storm, is set to make landfall in Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

"Never ever has anyone in Puerto Rico in 30 years gone though a Category 5 that's gone straight through us," said Libertad Guerra, director of Loisaida Center, a Puerto Rican community and cultural center on the Lower East Side.

Her assessment echoes that of the founder of Weather 2000, a long-term weather forecasting company.

"It is the strongest hurricane ever outside of the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico," said Michael Schlacter, CEO of Weather 2000. "This probably will be one of the most impactful storms we've seen this century," he pointed out. "People need to take it seriously."

It's why Tri-State residents like Alejandro Torres are now phoning, FaceTiming, Skyping or otherwise contacting their families in Puerto Rico for as long as they can, as often as they can.

The concern is justified, but both Teofilo Torres and his son Alejandro are convinced that some good can come out of what appears to be a monster storm.

Hurricane Irma may eventually knock out communications, but they're trying to make the most of it. "Without electricity," said the elder Torres, expecting the worst, "we'll have an opportunity to talk to our neighbors."

Devastation, said his son, "that's when the best comes out in us." He said he's counting on his family's neighbors in the San Juan area to come together to help one another get through the storm and past its aftermath.

He said he's counting on one other important thing.

"I'm supposed to travel there next week," he told PIX11 News. His sister, who recently traveled back to Puerto Rico from her home in Oregon, has long been scheduled to get married on the island next week. Her husband-to-be was still waiting to see if his Tuesday late-night flight would be able to make it.

Alejandro remains confident. He pointed out that Puerto Rico has seen many hurricanes before, though very few this strong.

Still, "People know what to do," he said.