British Virgin Islands

Monday, Jun 01, 2020

Puerto Rico struggling with COVID-19 and earthquakes

Puerto Rico struggling with COVID-19 and earthquakes

Testing their limits, desperate Puerto Ricans live in the south of the island after suffering two earthquakes and several aftershocks in the space of four months to which the pandemic by COVID-19 adds.
Ervin Quiñones, a 70-year-old retired school teacher, is an example of the thousands of Puerto Ricans who have lived since January in a nightmare from which they cannot wake up, exacerbated last Saturday when, again, an earthquake of 5.4 degrees - with an epicenter close to Ponce - made their houses shake, as reported this Tuesday.

"The tension is too much," says Quiñones, a resident of Yauco, a municipality in the southwest of Puerto Rico, the area hardest hit by the earthquakes that have hit this part of the island since December, which on January 7 saw how An earthquake of 6.4 degrees caused the collapse of houses, damage to structures and losses worth millions of dollars.

WITH THE CORONAVIRUS NOBODY HAS COME BACK FOR REPAIRS

"After the January earthquake my house was affected by cracks that had to be repaired, but with the coronavirus everything stopped and nobody has come back to make the repairs," stresses this Yauco neighbor, who remembers that for months, for fear of new collapses, he and his family have been sleeping in his car.

"We will be sleeping like this until we are not afraid anymore", said Quiñones, to highlight that the new tremor on Saturday generated that feeling of anguish that he and many of his neighbors were trying to get rid of when the coronavirus arrived to stay.

Quiñones says that now they do not know what to do before the fear of new tremors, which pushes them to stay out of the houses, and the fear of being infected by COVID-19, which, on the other hand, advises them to stay in isolation.

Eneida León, a 75-year-old housewife from the city of Ponce, is another of the people who has suffered the consequences of earthquakes and COVID-19, having left her house partially destroyed last January.

"You could not live in my house. Half of it was knocked down and the bathroom was also lost," said the woman, who admitted receiving federal aid for reconstruction, a process now stopped by the coronavirus.

León explains that the aftermath of the earthquake forced him to receive psychological therapy to alleviate the anguish she suffered, medical care that she regrets was interrupted by COVID-19.

"During all this time we were afraid of a new earthquake, which created great anguish for us," said the woman, after stating that on Saturday the new tremor made us fear for a situation similar to that of January, anxiety over anxiety which in no way COVID-19 has contributed.

The president of the Association of Emergency Managers and Security Professionals of Puerto Rico, Nazario Lugo, explained to Efe that the situation León is going through is unfortunately a habitual one for months on the island, when on that fateful 7 January the earth shook the south of the island.

HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES WITHOUT HOUSING

Lugo, former director of the defunct State Agency for Emergency Management and Disaster Administration, pointed out that today, months after the January earthquakes, there are hundreds of families who still do not have a home, once they lost their home or were affected structurally.

He also denounces that this entire recovery process was temporarily suspended as a result of the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis on the island, more than a month and a half ago.

"All this has caused a high level of anxiety among the population," says the expert in managing catastrophes, who does not hesitate to point out that the Government has failed to respond to this succession of crisis and has resorted to improvisation that takes its toll on the citizens.

"The Government did not count on the municipalities and this generated backwardness," emphasizes Lugo, insinuating that the Governor Wanda Vázquez, and her team have not had a proper plan to tackle this situation.

"Many people, after the earthquakes, abandoned their houses and now live in booths," he underlines, after warning that if tremors of a magnitude higher than Saturday were to be registered, the situation would become complicated, as it is not well known what would happen to the people in shelters.

Lugo explains that the situation, months later, continues to be worrying, due to the damage caused by the earthquakes in January, the mayor's office in the municipality of Guyanilla has to be managed temporarily from wagons, or the case of Yauco, whose mayor works from a municipal sports court.

Aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), of $35,000 per damaged house, was insufficient as the demolition work alone requires on average about $20,000, so now the municipalities are working in the search for alternative funds to help the population.

Meanwhile, the threat of COVID-19 remains present in a week in which the "peak" of cases is expected, which so far has left 99 deaths and 1924 infected.
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