Sara Avery | Staff Writer
Puerto Rican Governor Wanda Vasquez Garced has declared a state of emergency after the island continues to be rocked by earthquakes and several aftershocks.
“We inform the activation of the National Guard and the Emergency declaration that allows speedy government processes to ensure effective execution,” Garced tweeted.
According to the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, the country has been hit with upwards of 1,000 earthquakes since the beginning of the new year that all measure 2.0 and above on the Richter Scale. The majority of the quakes are a result of the Punta Montalva Fault in the Lajas Valley, which is located in southwestern Puerto Rico, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The biggest earthquake, measuring at 6.4, occurred on January 7 and left one person dead and over 5,000 more without food, shelter or power. This has caused fear and uncertainty amongst many of the islanders.
“We don’t know if or when these aftershocks will end,” said resident Nidia Nazario to the Washington Post.
Many of the citizens have been moved to temporary housing or shelters due to being displaced. The Puerto Rican government has implemented programs to aid with disaster relief. According to NBC, officials from Puerto Rico’s Office of Mental Health Services and Addiction Prevention have been deployed to assist residents with coping, especially those who were victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“These aftershocks are triggers for people,” said Official Abdiel Dumeng to NBC. “But I have to admit that we’ve seen a decrease in these kinds of crises, because we’ve been working together for a while, teaching people how to stay calm.”
The quakes have revealed many problems on the island, including issues with infrastructure as multiple buildings and homes, have been destroyed because they were never completely fixed after Maria. Many of the citizens have moved out of their homes and into shelters because they feel like their homes and surrounding structures are unsafe.
“As someone who has family members who live in Puerto Rico, it is nerve-racking because I know that their area hasn’t recovered from Hurricane Mariam,” said HU student Gabrielle Chenault, a junior journalism major from NY. “I’m worried about how many more earthquakes their area can stand.”
This led to congressional democrats to call on President Trump to release the relief aid to Puerto Rico that he has been withholding since 2017. After months with no plans for the funds, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that they are finally being dispersed.
Democrats are happy with the funds being released, but they were also frustrated with the delay.
“While it is a welcome development that the Administration has released its hold on these funds, this step is inexcusably overdue,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y. in a statement on her website.
So far, Puerto Rico has only received $1.5 billion of the $20 billion allocated to them from the congressionally authorized disaster relief funds to be administered by HUD. The latest release will be around $8 billion.
However, the Trump administration plans to impose several requirements on the dispersal after citing concerns of corruption and financial mismanagement in a White House briefing.
According to the Washington Post, one of the requirements will be a restriction on the number of wages paid to government contractors working on disaster relief. Puerto Rico’s government will also have to work to create a new system for registering properties and deeds in an effort to curb fraud.
“I don’t necessarily support regulating the money we give, but instead finding a way that is the most effective for the money to be dispersed so that as many Puerto Ricans can be helped as possible,” said Hampton University student Samirah Brown, a sophomore kinesiology major.
Even with the restrictions, many Puerto Rican government officials are happy and relieved that the funds are being released. Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez tweeted that the decision would bring the country a step closer to receiving the funds it needs.
The exact date that the funds will reach the island still remains unclear.