By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Recent years have not been kind to the island of Puerto Rico, nor to her people.
First, Puerto Rico’s public finances were ravaged by vulture funds, leading to the imposition of extreme austerity policies, followed by weak and inadequate attempts by Congress to address the island’s woes and place its finances on a viable long-term footing (see Puerto Rico Is Getting Squeezed, and It Will Cost All of Us, among other Naked Capitalism coverage).
Then came the 2017 hurricane – followed by the failure to provide sufficient crisis aid, and the inability to restore access to drinking water and power to the island, among other calamities (see Wall Street Got a Bailout, Why Not Puerto Rico?; The Situation in Puerto Rico: Power, Water, and PROMESA; Senators Press for Expanded Probe of FEMA Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Relief Efforts, McKinsey: Doing God’s Work in Puerto Rico, among other coverage).
And most recently, the island was slammed by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful in a century. Significant aftershocks follow daily and continue, including a 5.0 magnitude tremor on Saturday morning, according to CBS News, 5.0 magnitude earthquake hits southern Puerto Rico amid ongoing tremors). Residents worry that the worst is yet to come.
According to the Morning Call, Earthquake aftershock in Puerto Rico is ‘psychological torture,’ Lehigh Valley delegation tells Rep. Wild atsummit:
A waitress’ “funny” story about her life in Puerto Rico during the recent earthquakes now haunts Victor Martinez, who was part of a Lehigh Valley delegation that surveyed the devastation last weekend.
Her home hasn’t been damaged yet, but her family still feels the earth’s violent shakes. So, they sleep outside and only venture inside to get what they need. It unfolds like a game. Her husband stands at the front door. Flip flops, next to the door, she shouts. He races to retrieve it. The next request: shorts, second drawer in the bedroom. He runs in and out again — one item at a time — just in case the “big one hits.”
Martinez said the story may conjure a comical image, but it really underscores the emotional toll on Puerto Ricans after a series of earthquakes began rocking the Caribbean island Dec. 28. One measured a magnitude of 6.4, the most powerful there in a century.
“This keeps happening, and no one knows if the next one is the big one, and if this is the big one, maybe we get a tsunami,” said Martinez, owner of La Mega Radio. “They are scared. They are afraid. … That is the psychological torture that these people are going through.” [Jerri-Lynn here: emphasis added.]”
Martinez told that story Tuesday during a roundtable discussion at the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem. U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, a Democrat representing the Lehigh Valley, organized the forum to report what’s going on in Washington, D.C., about relief efforts and to hear firsthand accounts from a Lehigh Valley delegation that toured the region. Joining Martinez on the trip were Allentown Council members Cynthia Mota and Julio Guridy, and Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negron.
For more than 90 minutes, they talked about the damage and the camps the National Guard was preparing to open for the estimated 8,000 people displaced from their homes. Thousands others, like the waitress, are camping out behind their homes out of fear, they said.
In Ponce, on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, there were 900 people in a baseball stadium parking lot and others near a school while the military prepared the stadium as an emergency center, Martinez said. Some were sleeping on air mattresses in the parking lot, others with just blankets on the the ground. One woman in her 70s had been there for two weeks, he said.
I consider myself reasonably well-informed. Yet until I saw this recent tweet, I didn’t realize how bad things were in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the earthquakes:
Since people seem to have forgotten about the situation in Puerto Rico:
Thousands are still in outdoor shelters, displaced by the earthquakes. It’s been raining nonstop, which means some of the camps are flooded. FEMA has yet to approve assisted rent to relocate folks. https://t.co/s0YcVoISjP
— Andrea González-Ramírez (@andreagonram) January 26, 2020
According to Buffalo Rising, San Juan, Puerto Rico – “We can only hope and pray.”:
Nearly 8,100 people have taken refuge in 42 government and non-governmental shelters located in 14 municipalities, including the hardest hit towns of Ponce, Penuelas, Guanica, Utuado, Guayanilla and Yauco.Hundreds more are living outside their homes, some in cars and others in tents out of fear of the structurers in which they live.At least eight were injured and one died when a wall collapsed on him in his residence in Ponce.The quakes are continuing in this area as two aftershocks measuring over a magnitude of 4 were felt yesterday.
“They remember how slow government support was after Hurricane Maria and they did not want to be far from their homes so they set up their own tent city in the mountains and we assisted with tarps, tents, cots and blankets but we need a lot more. Residents in neighboring communities are donating food and water so they have enough of that. We just need shelter for them, rest rooms and showers,” explained Jamie Blanco of Iglesia Adventista del Septimo Dia Puerto Rico, whose Adventist Development & Relief Agency is a global humanitarian disaster relief organization of the Seven Day Adventist Church. They are coordinating donations and assistance in these mountain side communities for families who do not want to leave their barrios (neighborhoods).
Five miles from the mountainside, in the heart of Guyanilla, is one of the government-controlled tent cities inside the Luis A. Mercado Toro baseball stadium and an adjacent athletic complex. Soon after the January 7 earthquake Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced declared a State of Emergency and ordered the National Guard to the municipalities affected by the earthquakes.
One of their first orders of business was to establish these tent communities, which, compared to the tents and living conditions in the mountains and along the roads, these are the Ritz of Tent Cities.
More than two dozen large white or military brown tents were pitched with new, sturdy cots and warm blankets.Large generators provided power for light and in some tents, air conditioning.Rest room facilities were available, and volunteers were everywhere.The local school district prepared three meals a day and in the stadium a commissary and buffet line for hot meals was set up on the third base line in the baseball stadium. A live band was setting up under a large tent at home plate to entertain the more than 650 people living in the tents while superheroes performed for kids while others participated in athletic activities.
“We are trying to make it as comfortable for them as possible under these conditions,” explained Major Luis Melendez, the medicine doctor of the Puerto Rico National Guard who is also responsible for two hospital tents. He said his greatest concern is the mental well-being of those affected, especially the elderly.He is hopeful mental health experts from the United States will arrive soon to assist them.
When asked about those residents living in the mountains, Major Melendez was concerned about their health and safety.“For many, they would rather stay there and be close to their homes and hope they can go home soon,” he said.
“We can only hope and pray.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has approved a major disaster declaration for more than a dozen municipalities in Puerto Rico following earthquakes that officials say have caused more than $200 million in damage. More than 4,000 people remain in shelters, and officials expected that number to rise as a result of Saturday’s quake.
Puerto Rico’s residents are now well-accustomed to the federal government not being able to deliver allocated aid efficiently and effectively. Really, how difficult can this be? Other countries are beset with frequent earthquakes and don’t seem to have this problem (see this recent example, involving Turkey, Turkey quake rescue winds down after dozens pulled from rubble).
Back to the Morning Call for more on the Puerto Rico travesty:
The [Trump earthquake] funding comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s agreeing to release $8.2 billion of aid for damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. The money was held up when the Trump administration expressed concerns that the money would be mismanaged.
Over the weekend, video emerged of relief supplies purportedly dating back to Hurricane Maria still sitting in warehouses in Puerto Rico. Two people in the government have since been let go over the incident, and demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Gov. Wanda Vazquez, who took office in August when her predecessor resigned after protests.
This is a national embarrassment, the failure to get allocated disaster aid to people who need it I remember being in Istanbul when Katrina struck – and being ashamed by the Bush administration’s incompetent response. But Trump and his minions have certainly topped that poor performance. How hard is it to knock head’s together to get relief supplies out of warehouses and into the hands of people? Or to provide other necessary help to get people out of tents and into proper accommodation?
Alas, the poor people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer the consequences of this incompetence.