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Dozens Of Earthquakes Continue To Shake Puerto Rico


People in Puerto Rico are edgy after two big earthquakes on the island. The last one was on Saturday. It was a 5.9. A bigger quake four days before that killed one person. Much of the south lost power, and there are millions of dollars in damage.

NPR's Adrian Florido is in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hey, Adrian.


KING: So I was watching your Twitter feed, and you were there on Saturday when that aftershock hit. Where were you in Puerto Rico exactly? And what were you feeling?

FLORIDO: I was in the city of Ponce, which is near the edge of the affected sort of region here. It's - most of these earthquakes have been centered in the south. It was that 5.9 aftershock on Saturday that sort of scared a lot of people here. It was pretty scary. I felt it. It felt really strong. There have been a lot of aftershocks since then, including a couple of moderate ones last night.

KING: And are seismologists saying that Puerto Rico should expect more aftershocks?

FLORIDO: Yeah, they're saying that they could continue for at least a couple of weeks. And so they're saying people should be prepared for those. And you know, all of this shaking has people in Puerto Rico's south really on edge, dealing with a lot of anxiety. That big quake last week crumbled hundreds of homes and damaged a lot that did not necessarily tumble to the ground.

And so the big issue right now is that thousands of people have left their homes. They're too afraid to sleep inside out of fear that theirs could be the next one to crumble if another quake hits. And so people have been sleeping in these makeshift encampments or in these big open-air shelters that local officials have set up on sports fields.

KING: And I guess the terrifying thing is that you can't - if seismologists are saying we could have aftershocks for the next couple of weeks, people are not going to want to go back into their homes until they're sure that this is all over. When you were out there talking to people, what were they telling you about how they're making plans, how they're dealing with, you know, injuries and just things like getting food and, you know, using the restroom?

FLORIDO: Yeah. I mean, people aren't coping terribly well. And the big thing, I think, is the mental health issues that sort of people feel like they're - you know, mental health officials say it could get out of hand because of all the anxiety, all the uncertainty. Puerto Rico is not used to earthquakes, and so people haven't generally been sort of accustomed to dealing with them.

At these encampments, you have, you know, on the one hand, thousands of people across several towns sleeping in tents or under tarps or out in the open, protected by nothing more than, you know, the shade of a tree with no sense of when these quakes are going to stop and, therefore, no real sense of when they'll go home, assuming their homes are safe to return to. So that's sort of a grim scene.

On the other hand, you have solidarity forming, in large part because Puerto Ricans from other parts of the island have been mobilizing to make sure that these people are taken care of. People across the island have been cooking huge pots of food. They've been delivering toiletries, clothes, air mattresses. There's so many people coming into the southern region that it's actually causing traffic jams leading into these towns.

KING: That's a nice thing to hear.

Adrian, Puerto Rico got hit very hard by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and it's still recovering from that. So is it too early to say right now what recovery from these quakes is going to look like?

FLORIDO: Yeah. And it'll depend on a few things. Right? One is that, first of all, you know, people say they will not go back until these aftershocks have calmed down. And so we just don't know when that's going to happen. The second is that many people say they want their homes inspected. There aren't a lot of engineers doing that work right now. And then there are people who don't have any homes to go back to. The future is uncertain. If President Trump signs a federal disaster declaration, which the island's governor has requested, that could provide money to speed things along.

KING: NPR's Adrian Florido in Puerto Rico. Thanks.

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

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.