Puerto Rico after the Earthquakes

Puerto Rico has suffered a series of earthquakes since December 28, 2019, and the tremors continue.

One of the results was widespread power outages affecting nearly one million people. Hundreds of thousands are reported to be without running water. 40 quakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or more were recorded; the largest measured 6.4 on the Richter scale.

PREPA, Puerto Rico’s electric service, predicts that power should be restored to most customers by next week. PREPA Executive Director José Ortiz said at a press conference that about half of the Island already had power, but that the system would still be “unstable.” One power plant which supplies about 30% of the electricity for the territory will, Ortiz announced, be out of service for as a long as a year.

Puerto Rico endured the largest and longest power outage in the United States following Hurricane Maria, when it took nearly a year to get most customers back in service.

Local government efforts

At the same press conference, it was announced that the Puerto Rico government was taking steps to make things easier for people affected by the earthquakes. Prepared foods will not be taxable for the rest of the month, and a new law will facilitate Community Development Block Grant funding for small communities.

Following Hurricane Maria, many residents’ usual food systems were disrupted by the loss of power to cook foods. Relying on prepared foods was expensive for many people. Small communities also were disproportionately harmed by a lack of funds, often as a result of extra red tape.

Governor Vazquez declared a state of emergency and has been in close contact with FEMA to coordinate efforts to respond to the earthquake damage. The Puerto Rico National Guard has also been deployed.

The federal government takes action

President Trump declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico on January 7th, an action which allowed FEMA to provide funds and workers to address the needs of the Island. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) wrote a joint letter to FEMA urging swift action.

“Our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico have suffered from earthquakes that have injured and killed residents, destroyed homes and hospitals, and left hundreds of thousands of people without water and electricity,” said Schumer. “I will fight to do everything possible to ensure that this administration does not neglect Puerto Rico as it did in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. It’s critical that the Trump administration act immediately to provide communities in Puerto Rico the assistance they need and deserve.”

The letter referred to the delays and problems with the response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma and encouraged FEMA to step up their response to the earthquakes. “We call on FEMA to use all of the authority granted under the January 7 Emergency Declaration to provide Puerto Rico with the assistance they so desperately need, including the speedy completion of preliminary disaster assessments, and the prompt approval of other desperately needed levels of disaster aid,” the authors wrote. “We thank the governor for her work thus far and stand ready to support her request for a Major Disaster Declaration if she requests one after FEMA’s Preliminary Damage Assessments.”

FEMA announced that two Incident Management Teams have been sent to Puerto Rico.

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