Puerto Rico Volunteers Deployed to Red Cross, ARRL Sending Equipment

Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, reports that several Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers have been deployed to earthquake-ravaged regions of the island at the request of the American Red Cross. Initial operations got under way in the town of Yauco, where the Red Cross has a central warehouse for the earthquake relief effort. Operations are on VHF and UHF, although commercial telecommunication services remain in operation for the most part. A station has also been activated at the Red Cross Headquarters in the capital of San Juan, which is not in the earthquake zone. Aftershocks continue on the island. A magnitude 5.9 tremor struck over the weekend.“The stations are operating as a backbone, in case a new or stronger earthquake hits the region,” Resto explained. “HF equipment is stored in Pelican Cases for protection from a larger catastrophic event, if communications fail.” Power has been re-established over more than 90% of Puerto Rico, and water service is operational in most places, Resto added.

ARRL is shipping six VHF/UHF base/repeater antennas and six 50-foot rolls of LMR-400 coax, through the Ham Aid Fund.

Since January 12, the ARES Zone 5 amateur radio volunteers have been handling health-and-welfare traffic from the earthquake zone, reports Yauco ARES District Emergency Coordinator Heriberto Perez, WP4ZZ, who said internet service has been slow. He said the Red Cross has been providing food and drinks for the volunteers. Operations are running from 9 AM until 5 PM each day.

“Today was a bit of a rough day,” Perez said on Saturday. “Many quakes during the day. It feels like you’re in a simulator.” He said the three-person team is using UHF for direct contact with San Juan, with a backup support frequency on VHF, and communication has been solid.

“During the course of the day, we began to handle health-and-welfare traffic from nearby victims,” he said. “We are now reaching out to affected communities asking for tents for the community [as well as] diapers or medicine, and many other requests. We also initiated food collection in our community.”

Perez said an HF radio was to be on site for backup on 20 and 40 meters. Power to the distribution center is 40% from the power utility and 60% from generators.

Resto said over the weekend that he’d been told that the Red Cross was relocating the disaster relief operation to Mayagüez, which is a much closer site to the initial impact area, and ARES will provide communication support at the new site.

“A personal comment,” Resto added. “[It] is very difficult to sleep with so many earthquakes — more than 3,000 from December 28 — shaking your house. I hope that my house survives these intense seismic events.”

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the southwestern part of Puerto Rico on January 7, fast on the heels of a magnitude 5.8 tremor the day before. The worst-impacted cities were Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Yauco, and Guánica, where, Resto said, engineers have determined that 80% of the houses in the earthquake’s impact zone are uninhabitable.

Resto told ARRL last week that the earthquake disaster has definitely been a setback for the US territory as it continues its long recovery from severe hurricane damage in 2017.