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TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — The airplane descended to the earth and rolled to a stop on the runway amid a strange silence.

That silence. It unnerved Gabby Figueroa. A native of Puerto Rico, the 35-year old Figueroa has flown between the island and the United States mainland many times. If there’s anything he has come to count on, it is the raucous laughter, clapping and exuberance of Puerto Ricans returning home.

“Puerto Ricans are very loud,” Figueroa said, laughing.

But on this October day, after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, things were very different.

“When we landed, it was quiet,” Figueroa recalls. “It was like somebody died.”

Over the following days, similar experiences would haunt Figueroa and his 12-year old son Keegan, the somber experience of facing his once-lush and boisterous homeland rattled to its very foundations by the catastrophic flexing of nature’s temper.

The elder Figueroa left Puerto Rico in high school to play baseball. The pursuit of higher education eventually brought him to Northeast Mississippi, where he now lives in the Mooreville community with his wife Lacey and three sons.

Lacey is a teacher at Mooreville High School and Gabby is a Subway franchise owner and supervisor.

Sitting in his cozy living room, surrounding by the trappings of the life he has made for his family, the experience of the five October days he spent back in his homeland still stood stark in his mind.

“We’ve got everything,” Figueroa said, “But you can lose everything,”

The days after the storm were tense. Figueroa struggled to make contact with family. His parents moved to Texas about a year ago and a cousin lives near him in Northeast Mississippi, but the rest of his family all remain on Puerto Rico.

“We spent a whole week trying to get in touch with my aunts and uncles,” Figueroa remembers.

Eventually, an uncle found enough cellular reception to make a call and offer assurances. There were many material losses and homes destroyed, but the family was all safe.

Figueroa wanted on a plane immediately.

“Like any human being, I wanted to be there the next day,” he said.

That plan had to be scrapped. Air travel was clogged with island residents trying to leave. Roads were completely impassable.

So instead, Figueroa got busy right where he was.

The tales of loss he heard were devastating. Grocery stores with no food. A friend staying in line from 3 a.m. until 11 a.m. to get gas.

Figueroa and his wife put the word out through friends, through church, through social media, put the word out seeking donations of supplies.

And people responded.

“People just started calling,” Figueroa said. “When we had complete strangers calling, I knew we were blessed.”

The family eventually gathered about 500 pounds of donated supplies, including medicine, hygiene materials, flashlights, batteries, even generators.

With this outpouring of support in hand, Figueroa prepared to visit his native home, a place he’d last been in 2015.

But he couldn’t go it alone. He needed the presence of his oldest son, Keegan.

“I wanted him to experience this, to see how much we take for granted,” Figueroa said. “And he was a trooper.”

Keegan had visited the island before, probably six or seven times. As with his father, the contrast between past and present was stark once he stepped off the plane in October.

“It was pretty heartbreaking to see the island that’s usually so pretty look like that,” Keegan said, recounting the thick vegetation reduced to a scarred landscape.

And though back in Mississippi for weeks now, there’s been no forgetting.

The family continues to gather supplies and with the help of volunteers from church, school and the community packed and shipped another pallet of aid to Puerto Rico last week. Stockpiling for the next shipment is already under way, Figueroa plans to personally visit the island again sometime early next year.

“It changed my life,” Figueroa said.