Earthquake aftershock in Puerto Rico is ‘psychological torture,’ Lehigh Valley delegation tells Rep. Wild at summit
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.”
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.
Some are leaving Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. The Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley has heard from 10 families who relocated to the Lehigh Valley, one of them comprising 14 people.
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.
President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in Puerto Rico on Thursday and ordered federal assistance for areas affected by the earthquakes. Last week, House Democrats unveiled a $3.35 billion emergency package of aid that includes $2 billion for disaster relief.
The 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.
“My concern is that the lack of confidence that we see in the Puerto Rican government feeds into the administration’s narrative about not wanting to send money and supplies," Wild said. "And there has to be a way to solve this problem while there is still instability within the Puerto Rican government.”
Whether it’s corruption or incompetence that’s preventing aid from getting to people, Wild said, it’s “entirely reasonable for the federal government to attach” a requirement that there’s an oversight team.
Martinez said he thought the residents of Puerto Rico would be OK with that, but he wants it to come quickly, after witnessing the suffering that continues there.
Negron said she can’t forget a young mother whose 2-year-old won’t eat since the earthquakes began. She only drinks milk.
Wild shook her head, observing: “She’s scared.”