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How Earthquake Recovery Is Progressing In Puerto Rico's 2nd Biggest City


More than two years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico begins another recovery process. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the island this week, and much of Puerto Rico lost electricity and water.


The damage was particularly bad in the south, where many buildings have either collapsed or are in danger of falling down.

MAYITA MELENDEZ: We have to reconstruct cities in all those places in the south that are completely destroyed. For example, there is no school in Guanica because the high school and the middle school disappeared. They fell down.

CORNISH: That's Mayita Melendez. She's the mayor of the neighboring city of Ponce, Puerto Rico's second largest city. When I spoke with her, she had just wrapped up a meeting with FEMA. Both the federal government and Puerto Rico had been widely criticized for their response to Hurricane Maria. I asked Mayor Melendez how this time was different.

MELENDEZ: I have to tell you that, for example, FEMA came three weeks after the Hurricane Maria to close it (ph). The governor - I saw the governor three weeks after the hurricane. The governor of us right now, the new governor in Puerto Rico, Wanda Vazquez Garced, this is the first day she has been meeting here in the cities that were affected.

CORNISH: So you feel as though you're seeing a faster reaction. You're seeing more support.

MELENDEZ: The faster reaction. For example, the last community I have that received power was one year after Maria. Now my city has almost 57% to 60% of - with electricity, with power. And we have more than 88% percent of water. But the movements continue. They continue. We are worried there are many persons that stay in public parkings (ph) that are open. Nobody wants to be inside a house.

CORNISH: Let me understand this. So even though you have been able to bring electricity and water back online, you have people who are afraid to stay in their homes. Does that mean they're afraid...

MELENDEZ: That's one of the...

CORNISH: ...Of staying in shelters as well?

MELENDEZ: Yes. At the same time, for example, there are - we have a big shelter, and people don't like to be inside. They would like to be in the plaza outside. And they take their beds, and they move it to where there is an open space.

CORNISH: Can I ask about public health concerns? Right now, what are your worries when it comes to people, given their living situations?

MELENDEZ: The Department of Health comes every day in the shelter. There is no problem. There are many groups, voluntary organizations who have been coming every day. One of the services is emotional services, psychologists, social workers, a psychiatrist to talk to them. At the same time, there are artists who came during the day, music, the churches at the same time. But, you know, people are afraid. So we have to talk to them, give them security and that they feel we are caring about their needs. And that's important (ph).

CORNISH: Is this particularly difficult after the long struggle that's been the recovery from Hurricane Maria?

MELENDEZ: Oh, yeah, sure, sure. Many people get suicide after Maria. Many people were worried about the money. There were no communications. There were no water. And, you know, our work is to secure the people, and I worry about the people. I worry about my city because I love my city. I love the beauty of my city. So it's important to us to recover from this incidents and at the same time from Maria.

CORNISH: Mayor Melendez, thank you so much for your time. And we're all thinking of you here.

MELENDEZ: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: That's Mayita Melendez, mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.