On a normal day, Sandra Pacheco, an administrative assistant in Puerto Rico’s Department of Transportation and Public Works, begins her day at 7 a.m., filing paperwork for her colleagues in the field. It’s a job that Pacheco, who is president of her local, AFSCME Local 3889, Council 95 (Servidores Públicos Unidos de Puerto Rico), does with pride and dedication.
But the last three weeks have been anything but normal for her and many other Puerto Ricans, including AFSCME members and retirees, especially on the island’s southwest coast.
An earthquake that struck on Dec. 28 turned out to be the first in an ongoing series of temblors and aftershocks numbering about 1,400. A 6.4-magnitude quake on Jan. 7 killed one person and injured dozens and is said to be the most destructive in Puerto Rico in a century.
“It is the worst that we have lived through,” says Pacheco, a resident of Guánica who is staying with one of her aunts in nearby Yauco after an earthquake nearly brought down her house. “A hurricane announces itself, but this doesn’t. The ground begins to shake noisily, and it really damages your nerves. People’s emotional health is truly devastated.”
Pacheco says she is most worried about her daughter, who lost her house and is living with her family out of their car. These days, Pacheco spends most of her time receiving aid and helping others, such as delivering water and other provisions to people in need.
“The government of Puerto Rico and AFSCME have been helping us,” she said in an interview Monday. “This past Sunday they brought us water, soap, toilet paper. … Yesterday, the power was back on and thank God we have food.”
But there is still a great need for tents for people sleeping outdoors and for mosquito repellent, Pacheco says.
Puerto Rico – which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria and faced fiscal and political crises – is home to more than 11,000 AFSCME working members and 2,300 AFSCME retirees.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders issued a statement this week, calling on the Trump administration to implement “a robust and immediate aid effort to ease the suffering and devastation facing the commonwealth.”
“The entire AFSCME family has the people of Puerto Rico in its thoughts and prayers as they continue to face unthinkable conditions and personal hardship,” Saunders said. “Puerto Rico’s public service workers are tireless in their efforts to keep their communities safe, healthy and strong even though they, too, face displacement from their homes, vast power outages and the threat of disease.”
AFSCME is mobilizing to assist Puerto Rico’s communities by providing shipments of water and other vital necessities.