Rep. Soto Invites Puerto Rican Evacuee as Guest to State of the Union
Yesterday, Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09) announced that Jessica Carrillo, a woman who fled to Central Florida after the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico, will join him as his guest to the State of the Union in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2020, at 9:00 PM.
Carrillo was invited to highlight her story and the story of thousands of families who were forced to leave their homes as a result of Puerto Rico’s devastating earthquakes.
“I’m choosing to bring Jessica as my guest not only because she is inspiring but as a reminder that our fellow Americans are relying on us to do better,” said Rep. Soto. “In the face of unspeakable tragedy, we cannot continue to systematically ignore those, like Jessica, who need us to act. Thankfully, House Democrats are stepping up with a $4.67 billion relief package that will help Americans return to the home they know and love. In the meantime, I’ve led my Florida colleagues in calling on FEMA and HUD to work together to provide affordable or transitional housing to Puerto Ricans fleeing the island.”
Next week, the House of Representatives will vote on an emergency supplemental that will include:
- $6.75 million for technical assistance to conduct earthquake risk analysis, enhance long-term energy planning, improve energy sector situational awareness, and strengthen cybersecurity of critical infrastructure;
- $15 million for technical assistance to enhance real-time situational awareness and continued recovery support of the electric grid;
- $100 million to meet the educational needs of individuals affected by recent disasters and emergencies;
- $1.25 billion for repairs to road systems damaged by recent disasters and emergencies;
- $3.26 billion in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funds for disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, economic revitalization, and mitigation; and
- $40 million for disaster nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.
The supplemental also allows comingling of funds provided in this legislation and previous emergency supplementals. It also requires the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in consultation with other Federal agencies, to complete the consultation on electrical grid funding for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands within 30 days and to issue a Federal Register notice within 60 days.
About Jessica Carrillo
37-year-old Jessica Carrillo was born and raised in Guánica, Puerto Rico. Her grandfather was a Korean War Borinqueneer, who settled in Guánica after being discharged for medical reasons from the military. Jessica and her mother, Norma, lived together in their family home, built by her grandfather, where her mother was raised. It is a modest, cement and cinderblock house with a cement roof; a place she always felt safe and secure.
However, in September of 2017, an unexpected tragedy rocked Jessica and her mother. The impact of Hurricane Maria was devastating, leaving countless homes destroyed and forcing many residents to move to the mainland, never to return.
The family home Jessica grew up in slowly began to deteriorate and show signs of impact. A leaky roof and loss of phone connection were among an array of issues that began to arise. Her father was in Orlando undergoing a pacemaker surgery at the time, and they had no way of communicating with him. To make matters worse, there was no water or electricity, and an increase in crime caused her to live in fear every night. Roads were unsafe due to damaged streetlights and stoplights.
A year after Hurricane Maria, Guánica finally began to recover. The town’s mayor, using the little resources he had, began to spruce up the town, planning activities and events which were enjoyed by all. Despite these efforts, many homes were still in disrepair with temporary blue tarps, supplied after the disaster, covering damaged roofs. Some of those who left had yet to return, and others still had vacant lots with no resources to rebuild.
The following year, their worst nightmare came to pass-- the earthquakes. On December 28, 2019, Guánica residents heard the horrifying sound of the earth rumbling beneath their feet. Stucco fell, cabinets came off walls, roofs collapsed, and cars were destroyed. Jessica and her mother spent the first two weeks of the year surviving countless earthquakes and tremors, eight of which they described as the worst. They both would sleep in full outdoor attire with their shoes on, ready to flee outside if necessary. When shakes were felt in the early hours of the morning, they would sleep outside or in their car. With the closest hospital in Yauco closing, along with Guánica’s local and neighboring banks, more people began leaving as fewer people could go to work in a safe and secure building. Jessica remembers going with her mother to Burger King when an earthquake hit that frightened everyone in the restaurant so much, people began screaming.
The place that once looked like a quaint, small-town with picturesque tourist sights and ample lodging now looked like ground zero of a bombing. People moved north on the island to be with family and friends or left for the mainland altogether. Others are still in base camps or shelters. Jessica and her now 69-year-old mother say they had no real choice but to leave Guánica, taking their most important documents, two suitcases of clothes and a couple of pairs of shoes.
They left their most precious belongings and relocated to Congressman Soto’s district on January 14th. They now live with her father and his wife in Winter Haven, Florida. Jessica wonders if she will ever be able to return to her hometown with her mother. She often wonders if she will ever again feel safe in her beautiful hometown of Guánica or if there will ever even be a Guánica to return to.
Photos of Jessica and her mother can be found here.
Congressman Darren Soto represents Florida’s 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Osceola County, as well as parts of Orange and Polk counties.
Twitter/Instagram: @RepDarrenSoto | Facebook: CongressmanDarrenSoto | Website: https://soto.house.gov