LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Gundersen cardiologist Julio Bird re-lives moments of Hurricane Maria through his iPad.
He and his were were visiting family in Puerto Rico, it was supposed to be a vacation to visit his farm and spend time with loved ones.
But mother nature had other plans.
Instead the trip turned into a catastrophe he says, not knowing when or how they would make it back to their home and his patients.
They were stranded there for weeks.
"We had flights cancelled three times."
Bird and his wife soon found themselves battling 150-mile-per hour winds during the hurricane.
"At first it was not concerning too much, I said well we're going to extend our stay by four days, they had given us flights for the 30th and then somebody said no it's going to be mid-October before you get out."
He says he never expected it to get this bad.
Lucky for them, they were able to find shelter at a family member's concrete home.
But for so many others, that wasn't the case.
Bird says the death toll in Puerto Rico was severely underestimated.
"There are morgues that are full of deceased people that have not been processed yet."
He expects the number of dead to climb into the hundreds.
"The island went from being a first-world country, within 12 to 16 hours it was turned into a third-world country."
Bird explains in smaller towns and poor areas where the construction is wood, people lost everything.
"We saw concrete buildings actually have sections collapse."
Bird was battling the guilt of leaving his family behind, but also not being able to get to his patients back at Gundersen.
"The obligations that I had and I had scheduled things that I needed to do."
But he says it's more effective for him to be helping Puerto Rico from here.
"Here I can get access to batteries and to flashlights and to filters, etc."
He says when he offered to help at hospitals in Puerto Rico, there was not much he could do as many hospitals in the area lost power in places like intensive care units.
He says he's thankful his family is okay and plans to go back to Puerto Rico to help family members and others recover from the hurricane.
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