Since December 28th, 2019, southwestern Puerto Rico has experienced x earthquakes M2.5 and above. One of the larger earthquakes destroyed one of the island's most scenic sea arches. The largest destroyed homes and left people living in tents, too afraid to return to houses that may collapse during the next strong shake.
It's been nearly two months since that M6.4 quake. It's been over two years since Hurricane Maria devastated the island. And Puerto Ricans are still living with the damages, physical and psychological, caused by those two natural disasters. These unrepresented American citizens still haven't received the government aid they need to rebuild their homes, communities, and lives.
The money is there. In Maria's case, it's already been approved by Congress. It should have been dispersed to them long ago. They should have had plenty of time to repair and rebuild homes, and improve and modernize aging, damaged infrastructure. Their electrical grid, barely limping back to life after Maria's assault, should have been fixed and upgraded.
And funds to repair earthquake damage are stalled in the Senate because Republicans have completely abdicated their responsibility to American citizens.
This is how a series of natural disasters become unnatural disasters. When the government refuses to perform its duties, citizens suffer.
Neither Maria nor this swarm should have been more than an unfortunate but expected natural event. When governments do their duty, emergency response ensures citizens are sheltered and fed in the immediate aftermath. Medical needs are tended to. Damages are quickly assessed. Funds are appropriated and dispersed. People are given the assistance they need to repair, rebuild, or relocate. Things never go perfectly smoothly, but needs are tended to, and lives go on.
When governments refuse to do their duty, as ours has, people needlessly die. They remain homeless, or are forced to live in unsafe conditions. They suffer far more physically and psychologically than they should.
Natural disasters will always be a fact of our existence. How we prepare for them, respond to them, is critically important. What's happening to Puerto Rico right now shows us how the effects of these events are tragically amplified when government officials stand in the way of recovery.
Puerto Ricans deserve better. Contact your elected officials today and demand they step up.
And while we wait for our government to do the right thing, you can help by donating to local and national nonprofits who are stepping in and providing desperately needed assistance.
The earthquakes were devastating for an island still working to rebuild from the damage caused when Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. Earthquake recovery efforts have been slow, frustrating many. To try to speed things up, the House of Representatives passed an emergency aid bill in early February — a bill the Senate does not seem likely to take up.
In part, the bill provides block grants dedicated to reconstruction; without these funds, the southern part of the island faces major delays in long-term recovery. Homes that have crumbled from the quakes will remain piles of debris, and Puerto Ricans will be forced to remain in tent shelters with minimal resources and access to health care.
These tent shelters, which were intended to be temporary, were set up by the Puerto Rican government after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit the island, an earthquake that was followed by a series of aftershocks — including a 5.9 magnitude quake just four days after. And the shelters, and those who live in them, remain at the mercy of more difficult to predict quakes: Even now, earthquakes of at least a 3 magnitude continue to shake the shorelines of Puerto Rico daily.
The situation is untenable, which is why the House bill was initially a source of hope for those looking to the federal government for aid. But it now appears no such aid is immediately forthcoming, and Puerto Ricans affected by the earthquakes — lacking a say in federal policy as residents of a US territory — find themselves with little recourse.
“Puerto Rico’s still shaking,” she said.
Little more than two years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, a series of earthquakes rocked portions of it over the last two months. The first hit after Christmas and the strongest one — a 6.4 magnitude — struck on Jan. 7. There have since been more than 2,000 aftershocks.
Sepulveda-Muniz was on the phone with her brother in early February when he felt a tremor.
“You know, you get light-headed and he had to sit down when he was talking to me because he feels like it’s moving,” she said. “It’s not stable.”
Her family lives in Ponce, along the island's southern coast — one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquakes. Unlike Hurricane Maria, which wiped out much of the island in 2017, the earthquakes largely impacted the southern and western parts of the island.
“You wake up and wonder, not just, ‘Am I going to lose my home?’ but, ‘Am I going to die?’” said Chris Farrand, emergency disaster services director of the Salvation Army Massachusetts Division.
He traveled to Puerto Rico five times in the wake of Hurricane Maria and spent 11 days on the ground after the recent earthquakes. Many people he met had been impacted by both disasters and he said, some people were cooking on rocks — particularly in remote areas — because two years after Hurricane Maria, they were still waiting for power and running water to be restored.
“People who we had just helped rebuild their home from Maria, lost it in the earthquake, so there’s a lot of levels whether it’s physical, psychic or community-wide,” he said. “Every single person I met was in deep crisis."
“I’m scared because it’s shaking every day. It doesn’t stop,” Abraham said.
A broken-down truck serves as a closet, which holds everything near to them in the chance the home fails.
When the earthquakes happened, Nazario’s family, including his son Iran, came from Wethersfield to celebrate Abraham’s 75th birthday.
Iran bought and set up the tent his parents now call home. Going back to Wethersfield was the most difficult decision he had to make.
“I encourage them to leave with me,” Iran said.
Now, Iran stays in touch via FaceTime.
His parents can cook when the power is on, but they say outages are common. The longest lasting was five days, so they have a grill outside for the nights in pitch black.
They have water most days, but they store a supply in a bin for bathing when the water is off.
“We’re supposed to be treated like human beings and I don’t feel that way,” Abraham said.
The White House issued a veto threat Wednesday over a $4.7 billion emergency aid package intended to help Puerto Rico recover from a series of damaging earthquakes.
The statement came ahead of a vote planned for Friday in the Democratic-controlled House to pass the aid package.
It’s the latest in a series of confrontations between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats over disaster assistance to Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory is still waiting on billions of dollars approved by Congress for recovery from Hurricane Maria more than two years ago, though the administration recently agreed to release some of the money subject to several conditions.
Help did arrive, although it didn't come from the government initially. Instead, a hyperlocal response made up of disparate nonprofits and volunteers arrived and provided much needed aid, even during continuing aftershocks. Hernández said she was especially thankful for the response from one community organization, Tabernacle Followers of Jesus Christ.
Those volunteer initiatives sparked a feeling of trust in refugee camps, said Víctor Amauri, a social worker and one of the help coordinators with Solidarity Brigade of the West, which is made up of people from many organizations who provided direct response to help communities after Hurricane Maria.
"Strategizing after the hurricane and developing short- and long-term plans was our strong suit," Amauri said. "Now, it isn't straightforward to plan something for tomorrow, because everything changed. Misinformation and lack of transparency from the federal and local governments are preventing us from helping our people as they deserve."
The group leaders of the Solidarity Brigade used to meet in Mayagüez to organize community building projects. They would teach about composting and orchard keeping, and promote grassroots efforts to enhance food security and local agriculture as tools of self-sustainability.
"But in this context, we cannot think ahead," Amauri said. "We are still handling dozens of cases of families that are sleeping on the floor because, even though we are a country prone to hurricanes and, thanks to our location in between fault lines, earthquakes, the authorities never developed an emergency plan response."