puerto rico

Puerto Rico Is Recovering, But the Earthquakes Keep Coming

Damages sustained after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on January 7. Photo: Alejandro Granadillo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Six days after a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico, the island is still reeling from aftershocks, including a 5.9-magnitude quake that hit Saturday. As the island prepares for more quakes in the coming days, here’s what we know about the latest disaster to devastate the U.S. territory.

The earthquakes

A series of small earthquakes began hitting Puerto Rico on December 28, with the first major quake, at 5.8 magnitude, coming Monday, January 6. The next morning, before dawn, a 6.4 quake hit, damaging hundreds of buildings, leaving thousands without shelter, and killing one person.

Puerto Rico has seen more than 1,400 earthquakes, primarily in its southwest region, since December 28, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Twenty-six have been a magnitude of 4.5 or higher. In a projection released Monday, the agency said there is a small chance of another major quake, and a certain chance of many more small aftershocks.

According to our forecast, over the next 1 Week there is a 4 % chance of one or more aftershocks that are larger than magnitude 6.4. It is likely that there will be smaller earthquakes over the next 1 Week, with 40 to 230 magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks. Magnitude 3 and above are large enough to be felt near the epicenter.

The damage

The bulk of the damage from the quakes lies in the coastal towns between Ponce and Guánica. Images shared by reporters and citizens on social media show buildings reduced to rubble and people suffering without electricity and water.

At least one natural wonder was destroyed in the quake. The Miami Herald reported that Punta Ventana, a popular tourist attraction, was toppled last week.

According to Reuters, 5,000 people are sleeping in shelters following the quakes, and many more are sleeping outside of their homes. Reporter David Begnaud tweeted that camps set up by the Puerto Rico National Guard, which will house upwards of 500 evacuees each, are going up in five affected cities.

Across the island, public schools are closed and will not reopen until inspections take place. This has led one expert to label the infrastructure problem an “educational crisis.”

The federal response

On Wednesday, January 8, one day after the strongest quake to hit Puerto Rico during the recent stretch, President Trump approved a federal emergency declaration, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster-relief efforts on the island. The declaration also means $5 million in federal funds could be spent on disaster relief.

On Saturday, following the second powerful quake, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced said the island has seen $110 million in damage from the earthquakes. A newspaper on the island put the figure at $460 million. The governor also asked the federal government for more money to assist in the recovery effort, but Trump has not yet signed the major disaster declaration.

The earthquakes have brought renewed attention to squabbling over the $18 billion in federal funds that Congress designated after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. Just under half of that money was supposed to be released to Puerto Rico last fall, but it wasn’t. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Trump administration’s withholding of the funds is “illegal.”

Trump himself has also been criticized for not making any public comments about the earthquakes. Despite tweeting dozens of times in the past week, he hasn’t mentioned the thousands of Americans suffering in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Is Recovering, But the Earthquakes Keep Coming