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Orocovis- Farmer Ángel Manuel López Colón said on Thursday that going to a supermarket in this municipality, before Hurricane Fiona hit, took him 15 minutes. Now, he has to drive an hour and a half to look for supplies to survive in his community in the La Francia sector, whose main highways, PR-590 and PR-143, collapsed due to the atmospheric phenomenon.
Canceling medical appointments, not going to school or visiting relatives with chronic conditions or disabilities and poor signal on their cell phones are some of the pressing problems of Orocoveños in this sector due to the collapse of state roads, in the Bauta Abajo neighborhood, just on the peak of the mountain of this municipality in the center of the island.
“I went out yesterday (Wednesday) to fetch water, and it took me an hour and a half. (…) We are having a terrible time without access”, said the 66-year-old man, who also canceled a medical appointment. In addition, he has lost yam crops on his farm because he could not sell them.
“Every day I have to walk there (PR-590 highway) because I have a farm in Villalba. The car doesn’t go through there. If I have to go to town, I have to do a megaturn. Very few people have shown up to help us,” said López Colón, who lives with his wife, Nimia Avilés, and his son.
To the concern of the Orocoveños due to the lack of electricity and drinking water, this lack of access to the main highways is added, which transforms their daily lives. López Colón’s granddaughter has not been to school in two weeks.
The mayor of Orocovis, Jesus “Gardy” Colon Berlingeri, specified that there is 45% of its population without electricity service. “We have nine neighborhoods totally turned off,” she added.
“I have been here for many years because my last son is 43 years old. These days have been fatal, buying many cases of water. My son brings me tap water, but that cannot be (used) for cooking. The other day, I fell with a garbage bag that I went up to take it, and I fell on the road and thank God I didn’t get off the car “Nélida López Colón, a 78-year-old resident of Orocovis, told with a shudder.
The path of their relatives to share supplies with them is now much more difficult. “Right now, I am waiting for my son for food and purchases that they brought me. He was already without rice and beans, which is what is eaten the most now,” he said.
Right in the middle of the interview with this newspaper, her granddaughter, Shakira Miranda, came to visit her. Before the passage of Hurricane María, in 2017, they were neighbors. However, she was unable to fix her house after that weather phenomenon and she had to move.
“I had to move to Barranquitas. (…) This is the third time I’ve come to see her in the Damián Abajo neighborhood. The road is like an hour and a half. Before, it was only 20 minutes,” shared Miranda.
Colón Belingeri indicated that they estimate that, within a week, a temporary passage can be created along PR-143. “The rain has affected the works. (…) We are impacting to try to make way”said the municipal executive.
He stressed that, among the mayors of the mountainous area, they have collaborated to open the way as soon as possible and distribute supplies, such as bottled water. However, the desperation of people for not being able to go to their jobs or having to spend more resources on gasoline increases.
“Today (Thursday), we spoke with Public Works, as they are their highways, to see how we can permanently impact them,” he explained.
a displaced family
In the same sector of La Francia, the Los Burgos community is located, in which eight properties were impacted by Hurricane María and, again, affected by the rains of Fiona. Among the houses with cracks, is that of Virgenmina Colón Ortolaza, a 70-year-old woman who has had to move five times.
Colón Ortolaza and his children demand stability and, finally, get a place to build their homes. They denounced that a voucher from the R3 Program was shared with them to relocate, but that it has not served them well. “any” because they do not find properties.
“We are tired of talking, we want to see actions”, said the eldest of 14 siblings, Carmen Burgos Colón.
For his part, the mayor shared that he notified the Secretary of Housing, William Rodríguez, this week that these families still do not find available residences, and requested that they be helped with programs to pay for the rent of their provisional residences at this time.
In the midst of the emergency, the community of the La Francia sector has come together to survive. Gerardo Vázquez Ortiz recounted how residents have assisted older adults, using motorboats to move neighbors along what remains of the road and have shared supplies with them in recent weeks.
“Since Fiona passed, a group of volunteers has been activated to fix all the pipes of the community aqueduct that supplies drinking water. However, the landslides that have affected the entire area caused ruptures in the pipes and they have had to work with multiple repairs, such as, for example, the landslide on PR-590″said the communicator and resident of the Bauta Abajo neighborhood.
He recognized the work of the volunteers, including his 72-year-old father, who “has gone with his shovel to shake their hands.” The Orocoveño shared that, since facing the emergency, the closest grocery store, El Cometa, has offered transportation to neighbors so they can do their errands.
“Fortunately, in this community, most of us are family or consider ourselves family because we have grown up together, and respect for all neighbors has been instilled”Vazquez Ortiz said.