FeaturedJanuary 2020 Earthquake

Local, stateside representatives step up for P.R.’s earthquake recovery efforts

The following is a round-up of the different efforts by the public and private sectors to help Puerto Rico recover after this week’s earthquakes.

Nonprofits
The League of United Latin American Citizens said its members and leaders in Puerto Rico are already in “active contact” with teams across a large swath of communities assessing the extent of damage and injuries caused by Tuesday morning’s powerful earthquake off the southwestern coast.

“We’re thankful that the people of Puerto Rico are resilient and that their spirit is strong to again endure another natural disaster but we call upon the federal government of the United States to dispatch help with urgency to its citizens on the island,” said Jennie Rivera, State Director.

“Today, the images we are again witnessing are a haunting reminder of the devastation left by Hurricane María in 2017, an event from which we have yet to fully recover. However, LULAC Councils throughout Puerto Rico are also in contact via text messages with one another to see where help is needed most urgently and we are doing everything within our resources to assist,” added Valdez.

Meanwhile, LULAC National President Domingo García urged “Americans everywhere to contact their elected representatives in Congress and their senators and ask for immediate assistance to Puerto Rico.”

“We also ask that U.S. airlines reduce fares to and from Puerto Rico to allow emergency evacuations and travel. We cannot repeat mistakes of the past that will prove to be as costly in terms of lives lost or human suffering because of prolonged loss of vital public services,” he said.

Lee Vanessa Feliciano, regional executive of the American Red Cross, Puerto Rico Chapter.

The American Red Cross announced it has already distributed more than 350 personal hygiene products and blankets to earthquake victims living in shelters in Guánica and Guayanilla, two of the hardest-hit towns, as well as Yauco and Ponce.

The nonprofit has assigned mental health and health volunteers, as well as case workers to provide financial assistance to residents who suffered major losses to their homes.

“We have spent two intense days in the different towns of the southwest, we visited different communities to offer an immediate response to people who suffered significant losses,” said Lee Vanessa Feliciano, regional executive of the Puerto Rico Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross has more than 70 volunteers available to support the response. In the same way, the organization continues with its message of preparation, since the replicas can continue for the next few days, she said.

Government
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a set of guidelines to protect rescue workers and emergency responders after an earthquake.

“In the aftermath of an earthquake, workers can be exposed to safety and health hazards, including downed wires, toxic materials, fires, collapsed and unstable structures, falling objects, and slips, trips, and falls,” the agency stated, outlining precautions to keep workers safe.

  • Use personnel trained in rescue and cleanup operations;
  • Do not touch downed overhead lines or objects that are in contact with downed power lines;
  • Wear proper protective clothing, such as boots and gloves, when walking on or near debris; and,
  • Use proper safety precautions when operating generators and power tools.

On the other hand, Puerto Rico’s judicial branch announced it will resume operations today at all of its agencies, except for the Ponce region that includes the towns of Ponce, Juana Díaz, Peñuelas, Yauco, Guánica, Villalba and Santa Isabel.

“After evaluating the state of our judicial facilities and determining they’re not affected, we have decided to resume work in the Judicial Branch, except in the Judicial Region of Ponce,” said Sigfrido Steidel-Figueroa, administrative director of the courts.

“This is the region that suffered the most damage from the events of the past few days and in which the most affected citizenship resides, including many of our employees and lawyers litigating in that region,” he said.

“In addition, seismic activity persists in the area, which requires a continuous monitoring of the structural stability of the buildings before restarting work,” he said, adding that personnel facing a situation that prevents them from returning to their posts should notify their supervisors.

Telecommunications
The Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau announced the activation of the Disaster Information Reporting System in response to the Puerto Rico earthquakes.

The DIRS is a voluntary, web-based system that communications providers, including wireless, wireline, broadcast, cable and voice over internet protocol providers can use to report communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information during times of crisis, the agency said.

Communications providers serving all of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities must “expeditiously submit” to the FCC the status of their equipment, restoration efforts, and power.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, deployed its community support mobile units and resumed operations at its stores and the Guaynabo regional office.

The carrier confirmed that its team of emergency experts “continues to work hard, refueling and mobilizing generators to the most affected areas, so the network continues to run until the electric power service is restored throughout the island.”

Several stores in affected areas have not yet reopened, T-Mobile confirmed. The list includes locations in Yauco Plaza, Centro Gran Caribe in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico Premium Outlets in Barceloneta, Plaza del Caribe in Ponce, Mayagüez Mall, and Montehiedra.

 “It is expected to that these stores will resume operations as the electric power is restored,” the carrier stated.

On Wednesday, mobile units visited Yauco Plaza and the Emergency Management Center in Guayanilla to provide the communities with water, portable chargers and service. The units provided support to the communities in the most affected areas.

Finally, Liberty Puerto Rico President Naji Khoury said the company is evaluating the network and infrastructure, including the fiber rings, cables and posts.

Naji Khoury, president of Liberty Puerto Rico.

“So far, we have not found any major damages stemming from the earthquakes that happened on the morning of Jan.7, 2020. Both the network and infrastructure are operating at full capacity,” he said.

However, as of the time of this report, there were still 35 municipalities without power.

“Our customers will be getting their services back as power is reestablished throughout the island. Currently, about 60% of our customers in the metropolitan area and most of our customer base in eastern Puerto Rico already have access to their internet services,” said Khoury.

Liberty has resumed operations at the following stores and kiosks: Hato Rey, San Patricio, Plaza Las Américas, Plaza del Sol, Luquillo, Hormigueros and Hatillo. Stores located in Ponce, Guayama, Caguas and Aguadilla will be operating on a partial basis.

Author Details
Business reporter with 25 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other areas of the economy.

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