Updated February 18
Americares deployed an Emergency Response Team from its office in San Juan to assist families affected by the recent earthquakes in the southwest part of Puerto Rico which have added fresh trauma for the people of the beleaguered island. The team, which includes psychologists, a social worker and a counselor, is providing mental health and psychosocial support services for families temporarily staying in emergency shelters and is conducting welfare checks in the hardest-hit areas. Americares is also providing Psychological First Aid to families in affected communities.
General anxiety over the ongoing quakes continues to be a pressing issue. The Puerto Rico team did a preparedness workshop and Psychological First Aid (PFA) outreach and training sessions that have helped train nearly 1700 health workers, emergency responders and community leaders. Throughout the response, the team has supported 2120 individuals with PFA and preparedness skill building and psychosocial service crisis interventions. The Mental Health and Psychosocial Services (MHPSS) component of the emergency response has been extended through the end of March 2020.
So far, 21 shipments have been sent to various partners in southern Puerto Rico containing bug spray, hygiene kits, medicines, and medical supplies. In addition, support has been provided for the procurement of a generator along with free health services for displaced and disabled individuals.
In the most destructive of a series of earthquakes, a 6.4 earthquake struck off the coast at around 4:24am local time on January 7. The USGS reported the earthquake hit just south of the island at a shallow depth of roughly six miles.
More than 4,000 aftershocks have followed the major quake in January and have continued with the most severe at 6.0. One death and some injuries have been reported. There has been damage to buildings and infrastructure with most of the damage in the southwest coastal region. News reports indicate the January 7 earthquake was the strongest on record to hit Puerto Rico since 1918. Power was shut off proactively across the island for safety purposes and was restored in most areas. The island’s power grid remains fragile and vulnerable to the aftershocks.
“In some of the hardest-hit communities thousands of people are sleeping outdoors for fear of aftershocks,” said Americares Mental Health and Psychosocial Program Manager Miguel Marrero who has been going door-to-door assisting earthquake survivors in Guánica and Ponce. “Your house is supposed to be a safe place, but people are afraid to return home or are now suddenly homeless. We are helping survivors manage stress and anxiety and connecting those in need of follow-up care with mental health providers in their communities.”
Two years after Hurricane Maria, Americares now operates a thriving regional office in San Juan, focused on strengthening the local health system, responding to emergencies and promoting mental health and disaster preparedness.