Aftershocks In Puerto Rico

Jan 11, 2020
Originally published on January 11, 2020 8:26 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now to Puerto Rico, where the ground hasn't stopped shaking. Another earthquake, magnitude 6.0, just hit the island this morning. Over several days this week, the island has been rattled by earthquakes and aftershocks. At least one person has been killed. Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed. The island has also plunged into a power blackout.

We're joined now by NPR's Adrian Florido, who is in Ponce on the island's southern coast. Thanks for being with us.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And did last night's earthquakes cause any more damage?

FLORIDO: It's too early to say that, but generally, these aftershocks have been a destabilizing force ever since that initial big quake on Tuesday. Officials fear that with each of these aftershocks, homes and other buildings that were damaged by that initial big quake are being weakened further.

And one of the big areas where this is especially worrisome for officials is with the island's public schools. Before the earthquake on Tuesday, classes were supposed to resume from the holiday break this week, but Governor Wanda Vazquez has postponed the start of classes while engineers inspect hundreds of schools across the island that might be vulnerable to collapse.

SIMON: And how much power has been restored?

FLORIDO: As of yesterday evening, about 80% of Puerto Rico's customers had power, but hundreds of thousands of people still do not have power, especially concentrated here in the southern region. What happened is that Tuesday's earthquake damaged the Costa Sur power plant, which produces more than 40% of Puerto Rico's electricity, and it's unclear when that plant is going to be repaired. The head of the island's electric utility company said it could take as long as a year. Workers had begun working to repair that plant earlier this week, but then because of all of these aftershocks they had to stop that yesterday.

SIMON: And a lot of people have been displaced - haven't they? - because the quake destabilized a lot of homes.

FLORIDO: Right. And these people are not coping very well. It had been a long time since Puerto Rico had experienced earthquakes like the ones we saw this week. People aren't used to them here. And so after seeing so many of the homes around them crack or collapse entirely, a lot of people are just refusing to sleep inside their homes. Some people won't even go inside their homes. Every night, thousands of people are sleeping outside - either in cars, or on their patios or at these makeshift open-air shelters that have been set up on open fields.

Yesterday, I actually visited one of these at a baseball stadium in the coastal town of Guayanilla, and I want you to listen to what Leticia Espada - a woman who is sleeping on a green cot there - what she told me.

LETICIA ESPADA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: What she's saying is that she prefers 20 Hurricane Marias over another one of these earthquakes because with hurricanes, she said, at least you know that they're coming and you can get ready for them. With these earthquakes, you can't. And that uncertainty is causing a lot of anxiety, fear for people, and that's something that mental health advocates are trying to mobilize to try to address here.

SIMON: We saw how vulnerable Puerto Rico's infrastructure was to natural disaster after Hurricane Maria. Earthquakes have pointed out the same thing?

FLORIDO: Absolutely. Many of the homes here in Puerto Rico are not built up to code. That is something that's been getting a lot of attention over the last couple of days. And the most troubling example of this are those public schools that I mentioned earlier. On Tuesday, one school in the town of Guanica just collapsed completely. And thankfully, there was no one inside. And the next day, engineers identified a design flaw that they said is built into hundreds of schools across the island that makes them vulnerable to collapse, too.

And so a lot of people have said they're not sending their kids back to school unless they can be sure that they're going to be safe. A lot of people are saying that's why they're not going to return to their own homes until they can be assessed for safety. And so all of those inspections, all of those assessments of so many schools and so many houses, those are going to take a long time.

SIMON: Adrian Florido in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Thanks so much.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.