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Puerto Rico recovery: The forgotten mountain families

Puerto Rico Recovery

Editor’s Note: News 8 WROC reporter Josh Navarro is in Puerto Rico to witness the recovery efforts from devastating earthquakes first hand.

UTUADO, Puerto Rico (WROC) — On Sunday, we planned to meet up with one of the first Puerto Ricans to move to Rochester. Alfredo Quintana and Carmen Collazo were without power for 11 days after the earthquake in late December.

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Their home is located in the municipality of Utuado, in a mountainous central western region of the island. When the earthquake struck, their home rattled, and they say they never felt anything like it.

Their home is good, but in recent weeks, their neighbors decided not to stay in that area. The church in the town square has been closed because it’s not structurally safe. 

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While waiting for them in the car, someone from Rochester reached out to us about an Instagram post of a doctor who has been in the field helping those affected. His video was emotional as he was explaining he was just at a shelter with nearly 14 families, including children, was in an area that is the poorest in Puerto Rico, and needed help.

We were running low on items to give out but went to the local grocery store to buy food. Alfredo & Carmen went along with us. 

A house damaged by an earthquake is seen in Guanica, Puerto Rico on January 15, 2020, after a powerful earthquake hit the island. – The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which came ashore more than two years ago as a devastating Category 4 storm. (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)

The drive to get to the location was at the top of a mountain region of the island. The municipality is called Lares, and it is nearly 4,000 feet above sea level.

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The municipality was struck during Hurricane Maria, and it caused multiple landslides, Families who had homes along cliffs were washed away. They are still recouping from that, and then an earthquake hit. The municipality is nearly two hours north of the epicenter of the December quake that took place in Guanica. 

(News 8 WROC Photo/Josh Navarro)

It took us nearly two hours to get there because of the curve roads. Our ears popped as we continue to drive up and up to the municipality of Lares, where emergency relief help has hardly come.

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We met a woman, a community leader running the shelter. She is a U.S. Army Veteran named Edith Ortiz-Aquino, of the Bronx, NY. She has taken an abounded school and made it to a housing area to help the victims of Hurricane Maria and now for families displaced from the earthquake. According to Ortiz-Aquino, FEMA hasn’t shown up to help. She fears it is because they’re located in a remote area, hardly anyone comes to give aid.

We saw many children there and their mothers. They are living in what was once a classroom, now sleeping quarters that have more than seven beds. There are other sleeping quarters at the shelter. The Veteran broke down and cried, saying the families of the mountain are forgotten and need attention just as well as those who are in tents.

The Agripina Seda school is seen destroyed after an earthquake hit the island in Guanica, Puerto Rico on January 11, 2020. (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)

She said the town’s mayor has not come to visit and meet with them to come up with a solution for housing for these families since Hurricane Maria. They were happy that someone heard their cry for help and acted. Ortiz-Aquino wishes more individuals were more like that. At least the next few days, the 14 families will have food to eat.

And the shocking news of NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s death was felt far and wide throughout the island.

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