Juana Avila was not herself the day of the earthquake in Mexico City. Her thoughts were back with her parents, who were a 40-minute drive from the area of destruction.
Her father was home and safe, and only felt a little shake from the disaster. However, her mother was not at home at the time.
“As soon as I heard the news, I was freaking out,” said Avila, the director of religious education at St. Joseph Parish in Waukesha. “I knew my mom was out and wasn’t with my dad in a safe place. I tried to communicate with them right away, but there was nothing. It took me two hours to get in touch with my dad, but we knew nothing about my mom.”
An hour later, Avila heard she was okay and safe as well. Her 80-year-old mother, who had left her cell phone at home by mistake that day, usually takes public transportation when she leaves home. After the earthquake, public transportation was not available, so her mother had to walk home, a trip that took four hours.
“My mom said it was nothing like she had ever seen before,” Avila said. “The walls of buildings were all over the place, like it was a scene from a movie.”
On Sept. 19, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rattled Mexico City and the areas surrounding it. At the end of the September, the death toll totaled more than 340. The earthquake struck 32 years to the day after the city’s great earthquake in 1985.
Avila said although this earthquake wasn’t as bad, it was still hit Mexico hard. She heard the people caught in the middle of the disaster were united in service to one another, walking the streets, asking people if they needed help.
“This is a lesson for Mexico,” Avila said. “You can’t do anything unless you have faith in God and faith in each other.”
A day after the earthquake in Mexico, Hurricane Maria, a category four hurricane, made landfall in Puerto Rico. The hurricane itself killed 16 people, but the death toll will most likely become much higher, as running water is scarce.
“There is no power, water and gasoline and in the future, they will be running out of food if they don’t fix the power soon because everything is gone in the plantations,” wrote Deacon Manuel Maldonado, the associate director in the Office of Diaconate Formation, in an email to update archdiocesan staff about his family, who is safe.
Fr. Mike Bertram, OFM Cap., the pastor of St. Francis Assisi Parish in Milwaukee, said many of his parishioners are frantic. Most of his parishioners have family in or some tie to Puerto Rico, and many of them have not heard from their loved ones.
Luz Ortiz-Carby is one of them. More than a week after the disaster, she hasn’t been able to speak with her parents directly. However, she has a cousin who lives in the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico who traveled to find her parents safe.
Her father left the southern part of the island where he and Ortiz Carby’s mother live, and was able to get a cell phone signal. He called Ortiz-Carby’s sister, whose number was in his cell phone. The house’s roof, living room, dining room and a bedroom are completely destroyed, and they are without power and metropolitan water. Because they live in the mountains, they are able to get spring water nearby.
“It’s hard to go about your daily living when you know everybody there is suffering so much and they don’t have access to the things they need,” Ortiz-Carby said through tears.
While Ortiz-Carby’s sister suggested to her father that they come to stay with family in the continental United States, her parents want to stay.
But Ortiz-Carby knows they’ll get by. Her parents grew up in poverty, are very self-sufficient and know how to do laundry in the spring or cook food over a fire if need be. She’s more worried about the younger generation, who has lived in comfort.
“What I find frustrating is how the government can’t prepare for something like this,” Fr. Mike said, echoing accusations that the US government and the White House have been slow to respond to the disaster.
Ortiz-Carby had similar sentiments.
“In all the sadness, there’s been a lot of anger as well,” she said. “The help has been very slow in coming. It’s frustrating to know that things were being held up because of politics.”
Fr. Mike, along with his Capuchin brothers, organized a water drive recently, and took up a second collection at St. Francis on Oct. 1 to help pay for bottled water. The Capuchins matched the funds that were raised. The community raised over $12,000.
In addition, the Capuchins invited people to donate bottled water, non-perishable food items and hygiene products to a collection center in Milwaukee last weekend. The supplies are being taken to Casa Puertoriquena, a non-profit organization in Chicago, where the supplies will then be taken to Puerto Rico.
In the meantime, Ortiz-Carby sends a text to her father every day, in hope that one day he’ll be able to read them.
“Puerto Rico is a part of our life and it’s a part of our hearts,” she said. “We’re just sad.”
To make a donation to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) suggests sending donations to Catholic Charities USA. Visit www.catholiccharitiesusa.org to donate.
To make donation to earthquake cleanup efforts in Mexico, the archdiocese and the USCCB suggests sending donations to Catholic Relief Services. Visit www.crs.org to donate.