Earthquake Roils Southern Puerto Rico, Displacing at Least 50 Families

Direct Relief staff responded as aftershocks continued to affect Puerto Ricans.


Puerto Rico Earthquake 2020

A structure damaged by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake that struck Puerto Rico on Saturday morning. (Direct Relief photo)
A structure damaged by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake that struck Puerto Rico on Saturday morning. (Direct Relief photo)

A magnitude 5.4 earthquake struck Puerto Rico on Saturday morning, causing damage to structures near the city of Ponce and the towns of Guánica and Guayanilla.

At least 50 families were dislocated by the quake, according to the Associated Press.

Shocks were felt in the wake of the event, according to Ivonne Rodriguez-Wiewall, Direct Relief’s Puerto Rico advisor.

“It’s bad. There’s a lot of structural damage, a lot of houses completely destroyed, a lot of people living outside in tents. Again,” Rodriguez-Wiewall said, referring to quakes that rattled the island earlier this year.

A number of displaced people formed impromptu camps, one in an unused baseball field. Some of them, Rodriguez-Wiewall explained, lack even basic supplies – including sufficient food.

“Some of them are not even eating three times a day. Some lost their jobs,” she said.

On May 6, Direct Relief staff distributed hygiene kits, solar and battery-operated lights, and other essential supplies to people – many of them elderly – displaced by the quake.

Puerto Rico is currently on lockdown due to the Covid-19 crisis, which has made it harder for people affected by the earthquake to receive aid.

In response to the pandemic, Direct Relief has been providing personal protective equipment,  intensive-care unit supplies, and tents for triage and testing to hospitals and health centers. The organization is also providing hospitals with ventilators, video laryngoscopes, and other requested equipment.

In addition, Direct Relief is working to fund testing initiatives, including in senior care centers and drive-through testing sites; providing tents and PPE to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health; and coordinating a telehealth initiative designed to connect 200,000 patients remotely to safety net providers.

Direct Relief delivers personal care items to residents displaced from their homes after a 5.4-magnitude earthquake rattled the island on May 2, with aftershocks reverberating since. (Direct Relief photo)
Direct Relief staff  deliver personal care items to residents displaced from their homes on May 6. (Direct Relief photo)

The earthquake is just the most recent in a spate of seismic activity that has roiled the island since late December of last year. In particular, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake on January 6 caused power outages and a lack of running water, and damaged more than 8,000 houses.

That quake and associated seismic activity displaced thousands of Puerto Ricans, many of whom slept in their driveways, in shelters, or in impromptu camps.

In the wake of that event, at the request of Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, Direct Relief provided essential medicines and supplies to outfit 10 medical provider teams, and worked to coordinate medical services in Guánica.

During the distribution of supplies on May 6, Rodriguez-Wiewall encountered a number of families who have been living in tents since January.

They told her that, while they had seen an outpouring of aid when the quakes began, it has slowed since.

The lockdown is partly responsible, Rodriguez-Wiewall said. So is a lack of media attention.

“In January and February, there was a lot of news about this. You would see the highway going towards Ponce bumper to bumper with people bringing aid to the south,” she said. “But now with the lockdown, the help stopped.”

According to the United States Geological Survey, the most recent activity was actually an aftershock of the 6.4-magnitude earthquake. “The earthquake is part of a vigorous sequence in the same region that has included hundreds of small earthquakes,” USGS said in a survey.

Because the Richter scale is logarithmic, a 6.4 earthquake is actually about 10 times as large and 32 times stronger than the magnitude 5.4 earthquake that took place on Saturday, as determined by a USGS calculator.

Nonetheless, Saturday’s quake and the following shocks caused significant damage, briefly cutting power and damaging a number of homes and other structures. Houses in affected towns were marked with red, yellow, or green spray paint to indicate their relative level of safety, Rodriguez-Wiewall said.

Direct Relief is committed to helping people affected by the earthquakes, both with immediate needs and long-term recovery. The organization will continue to monitor the situation and respond as needed.

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