Former Real Salt Lake defender Phanuel Kavita sat staring at the television as images of Puerto Rico flitted across the screen. He rattled off a string to texts to his teammates.
“How is it?” he typed over and over again.
At 2 a.m. the response came in from one: “Yep, no power.”
Then from another: “It begins.”
Kavita, a product of the RSL academy who grew up in Utah, was one of just four Puerto Rico FC players who evacuated the territory ahead of Hurricane Maria, he said. He retreated to Gainesville, Florida Tuesday with his girlfriend, Kristy Smith, and has spent the majority of his time since they landed scanning the news and checking on his teammates.
“It’s painful because you think about, we were just there,” he said. “And how would we have dealt with the situation? But luckily we were able to get out, so now when you see [those texts], you’re just like, I’m praying that they’re doing well, I’m praying that they’re safe, praying that nothing happens to them at all.”
Puerto Rico FC, an NASL team, had the option of staying in the United States after their 0-0 draw at North Carolina FC Saturday. They sat in the Fort Lauderdale airport the next day discussing their options as the Maria was upgraded to a Category 3 storm and then to Category 5.
All but three players decided to return to Puerto Rico. Kavita went back with them.
“Irma came, and it wasn’t as bad per say, but we predicted it to be really bad,” Kavita said. “So for Irma I decided to go home [to Utah], and this one it was kind of like, oh we’ll just stick around and prepare for it.”
Hurricane Irma barely missed Puerto Rico two weeksago, but it still caused damage. Kavita said some of his teammates hadjust gotten power back in their homes when they returned from North Carolina. They didn’tknow it at the time, but that was nothing compared to the destruction Mariawould inflict on Puerto Rico.
Kavita made a Costco run Monday to stock up on hurricane supplies. Every store he went to was already sold out of water, so he took a jug from the team’s training session that day.
Just when Kavita felt prepared to ride out the storm, Smith’s mother called. She had bought plane tickets to Gainesville for Smith and Kativa.
They left on warm and sunny Tuesday morning.
“You would never guess there would be a massive storm coming,” Kavita said.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm. It was reportedly the strongest hurricane to directly hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years.
Heavy wind and rain pummeled the island and knocked out the power in the entire territory, as reported by CNN. Governor Ricardo Rosselló told CNN it could take months to restore power to the entire territory.
Kavita followed the storm’s destruction from Smith’s extended family’s house in Gainesville, texting the team’s group chat and counting each response. The power outage left some of the players without any means of communication, but through the buddy system Kavita was able to account for all of them.
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Footage of Kavita’s neighborhood, Isla Verde, aired on TV to show the damage of the hurricane.
“So much wind, so much debris flying everywhere,” Kavita said. “The road was covered with debris and trees.”
Now he waits. Puerto Rico FC is scheduled to play in Indianapolis Saturday, but Kavita said Wednesday he was not not certain that they will play, or what his travel plans will look like if they do.
“Everything’s kind of up in the air,” he said.