Those in as many as a dozen households are leaving Puerto Rico for Western New York after last month's earthquake rattled the island, but the number is likely to grow, officials say.
Dozens of aftershocks have followed the 5.4-magnitude earthquake Dec. 28. Thousands were left sleeping outside because the earthquake destroyed or damaged their homes and the continuing tremors make sleeping indoors feel unsafe.
"Although there is a small influx of Puerto Rico earthquake survivors currently, we do foresee a larger influx coming to Western New York in the near future," said Nadia Pizarro, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Earthquake Relief Fund.
Pizarro said about 3,000 individuals came to Buffalo after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017. People are still dealing with the destruction from that natural disaster. The local relief effort, then under the Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Relief Fund, helped 1,238 people who fled the calamity, Pizarro said.
Buffalo Public Schools have enrolled eight students from Puerto Rico since the earthquake, according to Pizarro. Catholic Charities, Hispanics United, the Belle Center and Best Self have each reported providing services to one individual who came from the island due to the earthquake, she said.
"There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern," Pizarro said about Puerto Ricans living in the Buffalo area.
"There is no way to communicate for many people because of Puerto Rico's power situation," Pizarro said. "You may also know a family member is safe today, but there could be another earthquake tomorrow. With Hurricane Maria it was one major event. This is constant."
Western New Yorkers can support the relief effort now gearing up in several ways, said Stephanie Mejia, Catholic Charities' housing program supervisor.
• Donations of food, clothing, household items, linens and personal care items can be taken to Ladies of Charity, 1222 Broadway. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and the first Saturday of each month.
• Food, personal care items and school supplies can be taken to 525 Washington St. Toys and school supplies can be delivered to 20 Herkimer St.
Mejia said some of the money donations will be used to help people with rent.
The cost of airline tickets to Buffalo has recently dropped, she said, which should help boost the numbers of people coming to the region.
A food pantry is also being stocked so it's ready when more people arrive.
Mejia said she's confident the City of Good Neighbors will rise to the occasion as it did for the survivors of Hurricane Maria.
"The island has gone through so much already," Mejia said. "The people there have been through this once, and now they're doing it again."