GUANICA, PUERTO RICO (WFSB) – Thousands are homeless and are now living in tent communities in Puerto Rico after devastating earthquakes.
With vivid detail, everyone who lived through the earthquakes in Puerto Rico in January can remember where they were, what they did, and how they felt.
“I went to my parents. I jumped on them to protect them because I thought the roof was going to fall,” said Maria Morales.
Channel 3 traveled to Puerto Rico and documented the damage that extends across the southern part of the island.
Homes overlooking the ocean in Ponce are so badly damaged that the Nazario family was pushed into tents in their backyard.
“I’m scared because it shakes every day and it doesn’t stop,” said Abraham Nazario.
The slice of life is evident on a wider scale throughout the towns of Yauco, Guanica, and Guayanilla where Omayra Gonzalez-Maldonado and her 4-year-old granddaughter used to live.
“She still has nightmares and I lost my house,” Gonzalez-Maldonado said.
Also, in Guayanilla, earthquakes shattered the home of Maria Morales’ parents.
“There are a lot of people who don’t have a place to live,” Morales said.
More than 8,000 people officially, sought at refugee shelters like one at a high school in Ponce. Overflowing with people, the government set up tent communities and were still active nearly two months after the earthquakes.
One at a baseball stadium houses entire families and their pets. They shower in makeshift stalls and use port-a-potties.
“People sick, sleeping in the streets,” Gonzalez-Maldonado said.
The 8,000 that the government has counted does not account for those like the Nazarios who are living on their properties.
FEMA tells Channel 3 that as of Tuesday, more than 30,000 people have applied for assistance.
“Mentally and physically, everyone is getting drained,” Gonzalez-Maldonado said.
In order for the tent communities to close, aid needs to arrive and help, and there’s no telling when the resources will arrive. This is causing many to try to flee.
Gonzalez-Maldonado and Morales both have relatives in Waterbury.
“We didn’t come back to the house. We went to the east side of the island and from there we left to here,” Morales said.
Even with the assistance of the Hispanic Coalition, they’re learning the transition isn’t easy.
Morales was one test away from becoming a doctor in Puerto Rico. Credits haven’t transferred, so it means nothing in Connecticut.
“I need documents to get a job that I don’t have,” Morales said.
Gonzalez-Maldonado doesn’t speak English and is having a hard time finding a job.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way and we will find it. We just want them to know they’re welcomed,” said Natalie Rosado, Waterbury Hispanic Coalition.
With her granddaughter hanging to her side, Gonzalez-Maldonado navigates the daunting obstacles as she tries to create a new life for the two of them.
“My hope is for her to forget it over time and hopefully learn English and be able to progress in the United States,” Gonzalez-Maldonado said.
After seeing the devastation in Puerto Rico, Channel 3 is holding officials accountable.