After a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on January 7, thousands were displaced, and others were left without power or water for days. While most people relocated to shelters, the Galarza family decided to stick together and establish a camp in front of their own home because they wouldn’t leave the matriarch of the family, Juan Galarza, behind.
On the morning of January 22, a team of American Red Cross and Mexican Red Cross staff and volunteers joined forces to do individual visits to community members in Guayanilla with physical and mental disabilities as part of the Red Cross Disability Integration program. The first stop was to visit Juan Galarza who needed a health checkup. Marco Franco, a paramedic from the Mexican Red Cross, checked Juan’s blood pressures and conducted other basic health checks.
While health services were provided to Juan and his wife Virginia, his grandson Hemsel showed up with his wife Maricarmen Torres and their three children. Later his cousin Maritza Feliciano showed up with her three kids and the house was filled with anecdotes about what happened to all of them during the major earthquake.
“We didn’t have enough time to come out of the house, but we remember that we had to curl up and cover our heads, so I yelled at the kids to do so”, said Maricarmen. “My kids are afraid to come into the house now, so that’s why we are staying here outside grandpa's house in tents.”
Immediately the Red Cross team comprised of two psychologists, one spiritual care and one paramedic started to take care of this family. They gathered everyone in the foyer and started to talk about how to be prepared for the aftershocks. They distributed a coloring book that narrates through images on how to prepare for local disasters. Between crayons, coloring books and teddy bears, the children were mesmerized.
Camila Rios Torres, age 5 and her brother Yadriel, age 10, were very attentive and they shared the new course of action they will take now that they had all this knowledge. “I’m going to yell “PREPARE” really loud so everyone in my family can wake up,” said Yadriel. “I’m going to make sure everyone gets out safe,” he continues. Everyone laughed because according to his mom, Yadriel is a heavy sleeper and he is the last one to always get up.
Camila got up and took my hand and walked me to the front of her tent. She said, “Come to see my new bedroom.” The little girl opened the tent and showed me her toys, books and toy piano. Camila then started to play a melody on her piano. Her eyes were bright and she had a beautiful smile on her face. Rebuilding the Island will take more than bricks and cement, it will take a lot of love, tender and care.
To date the Red Cross has already provided more than 3,200 integrated care contacts to provide health and mental health services, as well as comfort and spiritual care. These services are now crucial in the recovery process for Puerto Rico.
To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.
EARTHQUAKE SAFETY You can find valuable information on how to be safe before, during and after an earthquake here.
RECONNECT WITH LOVED ONES The Red Cross has two easy ways to help people reconnect. The Red Cross Emergency App features an “I’m Safe” button that allows users to post a message to their social accounts to let friends and family know that they are out of harm’s way. The Red Cross also offers the Safe and Well website, safeandwell.org, which is a private and more secure option. It allows people to list their own status by customizing a message for their loved ones or selecting pre-scripted messages.
HOW YOU CAN HELP You can help people affected by the Puerto Rico Earthquakes by texting the word EARTHQUAKES to 90999 to make a $10 donation or indicating this disaster on the donation form on redcross.org, and printing and mailing to your local Red Cross chapter. The Red Cross honors donor intent, and all designated funds will be used to support the affected communities in Puerto Rico through emergency relief, recovery and preparedness efforts.
Written by Grace Meinhofer
Photos by Scott Dalton