In Puerto Rico, Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers continue to operate from the American Red Cross distribution center in Yauco — one of the towns hit the hardest by the recent earthquakes and ongoing aftershocks on the island. The Red Cross requested assistance last week to identify undeclared refugee camps and to report on close or damaged roadways and bridges. ARES District 5 Emergency Coordinator Herb Perez, WP4ZZ, who is among those volunteering for the Red Cross at Yauco, reported on January 14 that he, Melvin Velazquez, WP4RAP, and Yolanda Garcia, WP4QZF, are on duty there.
“Today, we were able to occupy our space with no major incident other than the usual shaking of the entire structure. More than 10 per hour,” Perez said. “One of our members Jared Martinez, KP4LCO, was able to search near his hometown of Lajas and was able to locate more than 10 unidentified campsites around the area.” Perez said such reports enable the Red Cross to provide necessary assistance to those left homeless as a result of the earthquakes.
Perez said volunteers were able to collect food for isolated communities in the mountain region from a church-run food pantry in Sabana Grande. He said local members of the GMRS and Citizens Band radio communities have been pitching in.
Operations from Yauco have been on VHF and UHF, although commercial telecommunication services remain in operation for the most part. Another station has been established at the Red Cross Headquarters in the capital of San Juan, which is not in the earthquake zone. Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, said the stations are operating as a backbone, in the event of new or stronger earthquakes. HF equipment has been safely stowed if communications fail, Resto said. Most of Puerto Rico now has power and water.
ARRL is shipping six VHF/UHF base/repeater antennas and six 50-foot rolls of LMR-400 coax, through the Ham Aid Fund. Resto said a new Red Cross warehouse will be place in Mayagüez, where he will install a third station for backbone communication. “That is the reason for the new antennas,” he said. “We already have the radios. In case we need to escalate to HF, we are ready with ARRL go-kits from Hurricane Maria.”
The ARES team in Yauco has also been handling health-and-welfare traffic from the earthquake zone. Operations are running from 9 AM until 5 PM each day.
A magnitude 6.4 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 most homes are no longer habitable.