In January of this year, Puerto Rico was struck by another natural disaster in the form of frequent significant earthquakes and aftershocks. Although quake epicenters were in the southwest island corner, tremors were felt all across the island in what has been described as a 100 year class series of events. Earthquake impacted areas included the landmark Arecibo radio telescope and ionospheric radar facility, previously a victim of the August 2017 devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.
In response to the situation, members of the Nashoba Valley Amateur Radio Club rapidly stepped up to assist in support and recovery efforts for the world’s largest radio and radar facility. In particular, NVARC members Phil Erickson, W1PJE; Rod Hersh; WA1TAC; and Jim Wilber, AB1WQ, participated in daily scheduled QSOs with Angel Vazquez, WP3R, the lead Arecibo telescope operator and spectrum manager. WP3R’s longtime ham radio credentials include the 2019 Yasme Foundation award for his work in disaster relief on the island during Hurricane Maria. NVARC members Bill Blackwell, AB1XB, and Les Peters, N1SV, also quickly volunteered time on their home stations as backup possibilities for contacts.
The daily 20 and 40 meter group skeds from eastern Massachusetts to Puerto Rico employed a variety of systems including end-fed wire antennas, Yagis, with transceivers operated both barefoot and with amplifiers. Combined with the powerful kilowatt class station at WP3R, these efforts provided support and inquired about potential assistance during a period of several days when no commercial power or water was available near Arecibo. Power and water have now been restored to San Juan and Arecibo, but the observatory itself is awaiting structural engineering inspections that cannot occur until seismic activity subsides. Although conditions are slowly improving on the northern portion of the island, WP3R reports thousands of people displaced from their homes and camped outside in the south due to extensive structural damage and ongoing aftershocks.
The efforts of NVARC members also provided support messages directly to Arecibo from the large observing facilities at MIT Haystack Observatory in Westford, MA, and also from program officers in Washington DC at the National Science Foundation’s Geospace Facilities division. NSF funds observing programs and scientific research at the Observatory. Contacts will continue as recovery proceeds in Puerto Rico.