PUERTO RICO—January 17, 2020—The ground in Puerto Rico has been shaking since December 28 as a series of earthquakes and aftershocks rattle the island’s southern coast. Since the first 5.4 temblor, more than 1,200 earthquakes have erupted in the area, according to the Associated Press (AP). Most of these are small and shallow, but more than 100 were felt by residents and more than 70 were magnitude 3.5 or greater. With thousands of residents displaced and damages reaching into the hundreds of millions, President Trump on Thursday declared a major disaster for Puerto Rico’s southern coast.
The Puerto Rico earthquakes have caused power outages, toppled schools and homes, and weakened infrastructure across much of the island, which is still in the process of recovering from the devastating hurricanes Maria and Irma of 2017. CNN reports that many hurricane-damaged buildings simply collapsed when the earthquakes struck. Roads and bridges awaiting repairs were also more severely impacted by the tremors. On January 7, a 6.4 magnitude quake killed one person, injured nine, and caused an estimated $110 million in damage affecting 559 structures, according to the AP. Four days later, a magnitude 5.9 quake affected the same area, striking 8 miles southeast of Guanica with a 5.2 aftershock following minutes later.
In the city of Ponce, 23 condominium buildings have sustained structural damage, making the buildings uninhabitable and displacing hundreds of residents, according to CNN. Structural engineers have also declared more than 400 houses in the city uninhabitable due to damage that might lead to collapse if another earthquake hits. CNN reports authorities are also concerned many more structures may have sustained damage that isn’t visible, but that could still impact structural integrity as earthquakes continue to roll through the region almost daily. Mayor María E. Meléndez estimates the damage in Ponce alone to be above $200 million.
The Puerto Rico earthquakes have displaced more than 8,000 people who are currently spread across 30 shelters along the southern coast, according to CNN. Some of these residents are afraid to return home until the tremors stop, some have been ordered to evacuate due to structural damage to their home or building, and some have evacuated from homes that are already in ruins. Many families in the shelters will need government assistance in order to overcome this disaster.
Residents did receive good news yesterday regarding disaster relief. President Trump’s declaration of a major disaster for the island’s southern coast will give Puerto Rico access to Federal funds that will assist in recovery efforts. NPR reports residents in the municipalities of Guánica, Guayanilla, Penuelas, Ponce, Utuado, and Yauco are now eligible to apply for grants for temporary housing, home repairs, and low-cost loans Additionally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a grant agreement on Thursday that finally released another $8.2 billion in promised aid for the recovery of the 2017 hurricane season, which devastated the island with impacts from two major storms.