POLITICS

Trump Signs Emergency Declaration For Puerto Rico After Earthquakes

Much of the island went without power in the aftermath of a 6.4 magnitude quake early Tuesday.

UPDATE ― 12:29 a.m. ET Jan. 8: President Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico late Tuesday, following damaging earthquakes on the island. This will make federal emergency aid available for recovery efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. 

PREVIOUSLY: 

Lawmakers urged President Donald Trump to issue a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico after a series of earthquakes ― the largest early Tuesday ― shook the island, killing at least one person, destroying buildings and causing widespread blackouts. 

Puerto Rico’s congressional representative Jenniffer González-Colón, joined by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R), sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday in which they supported Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s request for a disaster declaration in order to get additional federal resources and aid to the island quickly.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement late Tuesday also urging the Trump administration to “quickly” issue an emergency declaration, saying: “The people of Puerto Rico cannot afford a repeat of the same failed response” that followed Hurricane Maria in 2017. 

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), who is Puerto Rican, said, “The federal government must learn from the mistakes of the past and respond compassionately and swiftly.”

The Trump administration was widely criticized for its slow response in providing aid to the island after Maria. Last year, Trump absurdly claimed that he had “taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever.”

The president was informed of Tuesday’s earthquake, the White House told El Nuevo Día, and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been in touch with Puerto Rico’s governor. FEMA told reporters the request for a disaster declaration was “under consideration.”

FEMA told HuffPost that it had teams on the ground but did not say how many personnel or what support they were providing. Scott said that FEMA had 2,300 staff on the island “ready to support.” 

The 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit Puerto Rico Tuesday morning followed weeks of smaller quakes. Tuesday’s earthquake killed at least one person and injured several others in the southern part of the island. It damaged a major power plant and caused an island-wide blackout. 

The electrical authorities said they were gradually restoring power, though several regions remained without it as of midday Tuesday. 

Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency and the island’s financial oversight board released $130 million in emergency funds to go toward recovery efforts. The governor also delayed the opening of schools until Jan. 13 after at least one school collapsed and others were damaged. 

Over 300 people took refuge in emergency shelters, the governor said in a press conference early Tuesday. About 300,000 households were without water. 

“Everything started to shake really, really hard,” Rebecca García Ortiz, 48, told HuffPost in Spanish of her experience Tuesday morning at her home in Lajas, near Guánica, in southern Puerto Rico. 

As objects started to fall off the walls and mirrors shattered on the ground, her 20-year-old son came running to find her. They stood together in a doorway waiting for the shaking to stop. 

After the power went out (it was still out in her area as of midafternoon Tuesday), García Ortiz called her husband, who was driving back from San Juan. He said lines at gas stations were terrible. 

“There’s a lot of anxiety among the people, a lot of uncertainty,” García Ortiz said, noting the island’s slow recovery after Hurricane Maria, including the monthslong blackouts. “It’s very scary.”

Here are images of the destruction caused by the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico:

Homes are damaged after an earthquake struck Guánica, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 7, 2020.
Homes are damaged after an earthquake struck Guánica, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 7, 2020.
Public school Agripina Seda collapsed in Guánica after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on Jan. 7, 2020.
Public school Agripina Seda collapsed in Guánica after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on Jan. 7, 2020.
A house is collapsed after a major earthquake hit in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 7, 2020.
A house is collapsed after a major earthquake hit in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 7, 2020.