Editor’s note: News 8 reporter Josh Navarro went to Puerto Rico to see the earthquake recovery efforts firsthand.
PONCE, PUERTO RICO (WROC) — If you take a drive on a major highway under the hot Caribbean sun you will see the results from the big earthquake that rattled Puerto Rico back in December. People have set up camp right off the highway just outside of Ponce, in the southern region of the Island.
“These people are here because they don’t feel safe in their houses,” Relief Volunteer Carlos Ramos said.
“They’re looking for a place to build their tents or build their camp housing and be safe. So we’re going to go there and check if they need any supplies or anything.”
On the other side of the road more people have set up camps as well. As soon as the items were given, the small grassroots volunteers from Rochester headed up to a town called Yauco. There, they met Rochester resident Edwin Torres’ mother, Norma Mercado — who lives in Puerto Rico.
“Our power and water went off but thank god we survived,” Mercado said. She is taking care of her 97-year-old mother in law and evacuating her was troublesome.
“We got scared a lot because we thought the house would collapse. But we were mostly concerned about taking care of my 97 year old mother in law through all of this,” Mercado said.
The home is still intact, but the neighbor’s house has damage. People have been living outside in tents on their driveways. Mercado said she has felt daily aftershocks since.
Meanwhile in other parts of Ponce, the other Rochesterians were handing out locally donated relief items.
“The residents in barrio placer, is one of the poorer neighborhoods in Ponce. A lot of the people are without basic necessities,” Paul Figueroa-Lippert said. Figueroa-Lippert is a Nazareth College graduate and now teaches in Puerto Rico.
“It’s just not an issue, you know what happened after the earthquake, it’s the economic barriers that these people face on a daily basis. Then you add a natural disaster two years ago, that was an economic set back then you add an earthquake, that’s another set back it’s going to be very hard for them to move forward.”
The earthquake didn’t help the financial situation, only added to the stress of the islanders.
“It’s a full package of sentiments. You know it is traumatic, you feel it. It’s not easy,” Resident Victor Quirindongo said. “A lot of people have come, a lot. We appreciate it.”
Collecting items in Rochester, flying those items down to Puerto Rico and hand delivering the relief to the residents is an experience the Rochester volunteers will never forget.
“I left him the stuff and I told him where we were from and what we were doing,” Rochester volunteer Cynthia Rouchte said.
“He was very grateful. He told me thank you for everything that we do and god bless us. It’s very emotional. It’s very sad to see what people are going through. Not more than 15 minutes ago we felt the earthquake ourselves. So I’m just … very emotional.”
It’s a desperate need that doesn’t seem to go away but is comforted by the help and “la valentia” — the courage of good Samaritans.