Personal Stories of Devastation, Suffering in Puerto Rico

It was 3:30 in the morning on Jan. 7 when Jesica Ruiz received a frantic phone call from her mother.

Gloria Vazquez was hiding under the dining room table at her home in Moca, Puerto Rico.  A 6.4 magnitude earthquake had just hit.  The ground was shaking, and she was terrified.

“She was scared and didn’t know what to do,” recalled Ruiz, who works in Supplier Technical Assistance at Ford in Dearborn.  “I immediately worried for the safety of everyone in my family.”

Ruiz grew up in Puerto Rico, and her entire family still lives there – parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Rebecca Cabrera, who works in GDI&A, was also raised in Puerto Rico.  She had just spent two weeks visiting her family in Ponce and was at the airport getting ready to board a flight back to Michigan when the earthquake hit.

“Everything started to move.  I froze and looked around to see where I could take cover.  At one point the agent at the check-in counter screamed at me to come.  I ran, jumped over the counter and went with them to an area that was fortified,” she said.  “We just looked at each other and held hands because it lasted a long time – about 45 seconds.  Then finally everything stopped.”

Jesica Ruiz, left, and her family in Puerto Rico

Cabrera said she immediately called her mother to make sure she was okay.

“She was outside and in the middle of the street with all of the neighbors because everyone was afraid that their houses would ot sustain the earthquake,” she said.

Cabrera ultimately boarded her flight that day.  She made it just in time before the entire island lost power.

Puerto Rico has been plagued by natural disasters in recent years.  Residents were still recovering from the damage caused by 2017’s Hurricane Maria when a series of earthquakes began to strike the small Caribbean island at the end of last year.  The Jan. 7 earthquake was the most powerful event to date.  However, strong aftershocks continue to occur, leaving residents living in a constant state of fear and family members like Ruiz and Cabrera worrying for their loved ones from afar.

“It’s been a stressful time for us that live abroad, not knowing what to do or how to help while our families are experiencing this terror in their lives,” said Ruiz.

Cabrera said that in many ways earthquakes are more frightening than hurricanes because you don’t know when they’re coming.

Rebecca Cabrera, left, and her mother

“You can prepare somewhat for a hurricane because you know a few days ahead that it’s going to happen, but in the case of an earthquake you don’t know,” she said.  “Nothing prepares you for this kind of situation.”

The families of Ruiz and Cabrera are among the lucky ones.  Their homes are still standing with little structural damage.  Others have not been as fortunate. According to news reports, thousands of people are still sleeping outside under camping tents, on cots, in their cars and in enormous open tents that serve as government shelters. And more than 150 schools remain closed.

“At this time most of the public schools are considered unsafe and have been closed indefinitely.  My niece goes to the public elementary school in my hometown and has been out of school since December,” said Ruiz.  “Our kids – the next generation – cannot progress if their education is shortened by several months.”

Since 2017, Ford has provided more than $1.5 million in disaster relief efforts to Puerto and donated 9 vehicles used by local nonprofit organizations to provide multiple services to communities in need.  Earlier this year, the company contributed $140,000 to help people impacted by the earthquakes.

Though we don’t see stories in the news every day about the suffering going on in Puerto Rico – especially in light of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic – the people still need a great deal of help. 

“It’s important for people to understand that the hurricanes and earthquakes are still in Puerto Rico.  The tragedies took place but the devastation is still going on,” said Joe Avila, manager, Ford Fund, U.S. & Latin America.  “As the Ford family, we are very well known to come together to help people when they need us, and there are a lot of families who need help.  Anything that people can contribute will go a long way and I know the people of Puerto Rico will appreciate that.”

If you would like to help the people of Puerto Rico, please consider a donation to one of the following organizations:  HEART 9/11Hispanic FederationSalvation Army Puerto Rico or Toolbank USA (choose disaster services).

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