By NABONG ANGELA CEZILE
Ever since December 28, approximately more than 500 minor earthquakes have shaken Puerto Rico’s southwest coast with a magnitude of 2 or higher according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). However, last Tuesday at around 7pm, a large quake with a magnitude of 6.4 focused off the southern coast destroyed popular landmarks, many buildings such as schools and churches, injured at least nine people, and forced the island to shut down its power grid which lead to a state of emergency declaration. The lines rebuilt after Hurricane Maria (a deadly storm back in 2017 that holds the longest and largest disaster in history, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency) held up but some of the old power plants didn’t. “At the moment there’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of tension and anxiety,” said Gabriella N. Báez, a photographer living on the island during an interview with CNN. Countless of Puerto Rican’s currently don’t feel that it’s safe in their homes, in fear that another will happen at any moment. “People are just sleeping outside in tents or in their cars because they’re afraid that another earthquake may strike and it might be a bigger one,” Báez says as she visits the shelters near the island’s southwest coast. There they have access to food, water, medical aid, and chargers for phones.
The following day, President Donald Trump announced a state of emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to organize a recovery effort. After that alarming shock last Tuesday, a series of on-land aftershocks began to appear. Just two days after that terrible incident, an aftershock with a magnitude of 5.2 struck at the same area of Puerto Rico. This added more power outages, cracks on unstable buildings, and feelings of dread that the shaking won’t stop anytime soon.
On Saturday, another strong aftershock, now with a magnitude of 6.0, caused millions of dollars in damage throughout the island’s southern coast and left roughly 59,000 customers without power. According to the National Weather Service, at around 9 am, the aftershock happened 8 miles away from Guanica. It was then followed by several aftershocks but no injuries and deaths were reported, officials said. Many residents said that the temblor has caused concrete debris from broken down buildings to bounce off into the streets. During a news conference Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced that afternoon that she declared a major state emergency after an initial judgement of damage that followed the latest temblor. She also demands the immediate disbursement of $2 million for the towns of Guánica, Utuado, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce and Yauco to meet their most dire needs. Puerto Rico’s commissioner to Congress, Jennifer Gonzalez, and five other members of Congress sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to sign a major disaster declaration that would help federal funding to the recovery effort.
It almost seems and feels as if there is going to be a neverending attack of earthquakes happening left and right. The quakes have caused about $110 million in damages and have destroyed at least 559 structures. Why now are all these earthquakes appearing? Currently right now Puerto Rico is being squeezed between the border of the North American and Carribean tectonic plates. The North American plate is being pushed under the Carribean plate, thus creating the possible earthquakes and undersea landslides that can most likely set off tsunamis. Elizabeth Vanacore, a seismologist with the Puerto Rico Seismic Network says “We’re just as likely to have earthquakes as a place like California, Japan, New Zealand, Alaska.” When tectonic plates around or in the region pass by each other while squeezing together in the process, stress and energy builds up until one side of a fault rises up, which then unleashes earthquakes. Then the quakes reconstruct stresses along the fault for a while until they begin to build up and large vibrations happen.
Puerto Rico is still facing large aftershocks; we currently do not know what’s instore for Puerto Rico and what their future will hold. However we do know that Puerto Rico’s landscape, according to NASA satellites that were captured last Friday, that the ground shifted up to 5.5 inches in a downward slightly west direction. Many are Purto Ricans in are currently in refugee camps due to the loss of their homes and some are having injuries being treated. Puerto Rico is in dire need of prayers, medical aid, and power.