Puerto Rico: Earthquake Aftershocks and Aftermath

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Recent years have not been kind to the island of Puerto Rico, nor to her people.

First, Puerto Rico’s public finances were ravaged by vulture funds, leading to the imposition of extreme austerity policies, followed  by weak and inadequate  attempts by Congress to address the island’s woes  and place its finances on a viable long-term footing (see Puerto Rico Is Getting Squeezed, and It Will Cost All of Us, among other Naked Capitalism coverage).

Then came the 2017 hurricane – followed by the failure to provide sufficient crisis aid, and the inability to restore access to drinking water and power to the island, among other calamities (see Wall Street Got a Bailout, Why Not Puerto Rico?; The Situation in Puerto Rico: Power, Water, and PROMESA; Senators Press for Expanded Probe of FEMA Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Relief Efforts, McKinsey: Doing God’s Work in Puerto Rico, among other coverage).

And most recently, the island was slammed by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful in a century. Significant aftershocks follow  daily and continue, including a 5.0 magnitude tremor on Saturday morning, according to CBS News, 5.0 magnitude earthquake hits southern Puerto Rico amid ongoing tremors). Residents worry that the worst is yet to come.

According to  the Morning Call, Earthquake aftershock in Puerto Rico is ‘psychological torture,’ Lehigh Valley delegation tells Rep. Wild atsummit:

A waitress’ “funny” story about her life in Puerto Rico during the recent earthquakes now haunts Victor Martinez, who was part of a Lehigh Valley delegation that surveyed the devastation last weekend.

Her home hasn’t been damaged yet, but her family still feels the earth’s violent shakes. So, they sleep outside and only venture inside to get what they need. It unfolds like a game. Her husband stands at the front door. Flip flops, next to the door, she shouts. He races to retrieve it. The next request: shorts, second drawer in the bedroom. He runs in and out again — one item at a time — just in case the “big one hits.”

Martinez said the story may conjure a comical image, but it really underscores the emotional toll on Puerto Ricans after a series of earthquakes began rocking the Caribbean island Dec. 28. One measured a magnitude of 6.4, the most powerful there in a century.

“This keeps happening, and no one knows if the next one is the big one, and if this is the big one, maybe we get a tsunami,” said Martinez, owner of La Mega Radio. “They are scared. They are afraid. … That is the psychological torture that these people are going through.”  [Jerri-Lynn here: emphasis added.]”

Martinez told that story Tuesday during a roundtable discussion at the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem. U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, a Democrat representing the Lehigh Valley, organized the forum to report what’s going on in Washington, D.C., about relief efforts and to hear firsthand accounts from a Lehigh Valley delegation that toured the region. Joining Martinez on the trip were Allentown Council members Cynthia Mota and Julio Guridy, and Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negron.

For more than 90 minutes, they talked about the damage and the camps the National Guard was preparing to open for the estimated 8,000 people displaced from their homes. Thousands others, like the waitress, are camping out behind their homes out of fear, they said.


In Ponce, on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, there were 900 people in a baseball stadium parking lot and others near a school while the military prepared the stadium as an emergency center, Martinez said. Some were sleeping on air mattresses in the parking lot, others with just blankets on the the ground. One woman in her 70s had been there for two weeks, he said.

I consider myself reasonably well-informed. Yet until I saw this recent tweet, I didn’t realize how bad things were in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the earthquakes:

According to Buffalo Rising, San Juan, Puerto Rico – “We can only hope and pray.”:

Nearly 8,100 people have taken refuge in 42 government and non-governmental shelters located in 14 municipalities, including the hardest hit towns of Ponce, Penuelas, Guanica, Utuado, Guayanilla and Yauco.Hundreds more are living outside their homes, some in cars and others in tents out of fear of the structurers in which they live.At least eight were injured and one died when a wall collapsed on him in his residence in Ponce.The quakes are continuing in this area as two aftershocks measuring over a magnitude of 4 were felt yesterday.

“They remember how slow government support was after Hurricane Maria and they did not want to be far from their homes so they set up their own tent city in the mountains and we assisted with tarps, tents, cots and blankets but we need a lot more.  Residents in neighboring communities are donating food and water so they have enough of that.  We just need shelter for them, rest rooms and showers,” explained Jamie Blanco of Iglesia Adventista del Septimo Dia Puerto Rico, whose Adventist Development & Relief Agency is a global humanitarian disaster relief organization of the Seven Day Adventist Church.  They are coordinating donations and assistance in these mountain side communities for families who do not want to leave their barrios (neighborhoods).

Five miles from the mountainside, in the heart of Guyanilla, is one of the government-controlled tent cities inside the Luis A. Mercado Toro baseball stadium and an adjacent athletic complex. Soon after the January 7 earthquake Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced declared a State of Emergency and ordered the National Guard to the municipalities affected by the earthquakes.

One of their first orders of business was to establish these tent communities, which, compared to the tents and living conditions in the mountains and along the roads, these are the Ritz of Tent Cities.

More than two dozen large white or military brown tents were pitched with new, sturdy cots and warm blankets.Large generators provided power for light and in some tents, air conditioning.Rest room facilities were available, and volunteers were everywhere.The local school district prepared three meals a day and in the stadium a commissary and buffet line for hot meals was set up on the third base line in the baseball stadium. A live band was setting up under a large tent at home plate to entertain the more than 650 people living in the tents while superheroes performed for kids while others participated in athletic activities.

“We are trying to make it as comfortable for them as possible under these conditions,” explained Major Luis Melendez, the medicine doctor of the Puerto Rico National Guard who is also responsible for two hospital tents. He said his greatest concern is the mental well-being of those affected, especially the elderly.He is hopeful mental health experts from the United States will arrive soon to assist them.

When asked about those residents living in the mountains, Major Melendez was concerned about their health and safety.“For many, they would rather stay there and be close to their homes and hope they can go home soon,” he said.

“We can only hope and pray.”

CBS reports:

U.S. President Donald Trump has approved a major disaster declaration for more than a dozen municipalities in Puerto Rico following earthquakes that officials say have caused more than $200 million in damage. More than 4,000 people remain in shelters, and officials expected that number to rise as a result of Saturday’s quake.

Puerto Rico’s  residents are now well-accustomed to the federal government not being able to deliver allocated aid efficiently and effectively. Really, how difficult can this be? Other countries are beset with frequent earthquakes and don’t seem to have this problem (see this recent example, involving Turkey, Turkey quake rescue winds down after dozens pulled from rubble).

Back to the Morning Call for more on the Puerto Rico travesty:

The [Trump earthquake] funding comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s agreeing to release $8.2 billion of aid for damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. The money was held up when the Trump administration expressed concerns that the money would be mismanaged.

Over the weekend, video emerged of relief supplies purportedly dating back to Hurricane Maria still sitting in warehouses in Puerto Rico. Two people in the government have since been let go over the incident, and demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Gov. Wanda Vazquez, who took office in August when her predecessor resigned after protests.

This is a national embarrassment, the failure to get allocated disaster aid to people who need it I remember being in Istanbul when Katrina struck – and being ashamed by the Bush administration’s incompetent response. But Trump and his minions have certainly topped that poor performance. How hard is it to knock head’s together to get relief supplies out of warehouses and into the hands of people? Or to provide other necessary help to get people out of tents and into proper accommodation?

Alas, the  poor people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer the consequences of this incompetence.

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  1. notabanktoadie

    China should offer to buy Puerto Rico from the US.

    Think a referendum of the Island’s inhabitants to that end would fail given the shoddy treatment they’ve received from the US?

    And think of the reduction in the US’s National Debt! /sarc

  2. Synoia

    The money was held up when the Trump administration expressed concerns that the money would be mismanaged.

    The money would be mismanaged by whom? The people appointed by the Federal Government?

    There is always this concern over “mismanaging money.” Perhaps those in DC could look at Pentagon spending and its Complete and Accurate accounts.

    1. DHG

      They tried to look at the Pentagons expenses and gave up, there is zero real accounting for all that money they shovel into it. its nothing but a crooked mess.

      1. Synoia

        They tried to look at the Pentagons expenses and gave up….

        Maybe, but this is the Military with massive resources, and a focus on “Mission” completion. The decision to cancel the audit must have come from above the audit team.

        I’ve always wondered if they found something, an expensive program, they did not want exposed.

        1. Fíréan

          Was there not real mismanagement of relieve funds ( $Bs) to Haiti ? Though not USA government funds yet private “charity” ? ( some funds origins may have been other country governments to said charity ).

          1. JBird4049

            There is always mismanagement, corruption, and plain theft, but somehow it only really becomes a concern when people, you know, our fellow Americans need disaster aid immediately. For what it cost for one, maybe two, F-35 Flying Turkeys the relief of the entire colony could be well done.

  3. smoker

    I’ve always thought Katrina was a very bad omen of things to come, particularly for people of color and vulnerable populations, no matter what color.

    Good on McCall for giving it the attention it deserves, they did the same thing (a US first, as I recall) with the horrid Amazon Warehouse in their neck of the woods, some years ago. Unfortunately, our feckless leaders haven’t done anything about that really, We need Human Rights Laws with Teeth in them, not Laws where one must hire an unaffordable Lawyer when they’ve been abused. We need a Press that’s not beholden to Business Entities and their Non-Profit supporting organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce.

    The World needs a moratorium on business and war as usual, so many unnecessary lives lost or destroyed, and now we’re headed into Space Wars.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > The World needs a moratorium on business and war as usual, so many unnecessary lives lost or destroyed, and now we’re headed into Space Wars.

      Everything’s going according to plan!

      1. Keith Newman

        Agreed Lambert. The plan is to grind the great majority of people down to the level of the poor in India. Some are already there but there’s lots more room to fall for most. Poor, despairing and docile: that’s the goal and we’re on the way.

      2. smoker

        Everything’s going according to plan!

        the question is why, since those planners are so stunningly outnumbered; the answer is identifying those major planners who delegate downwards and shaming and shunning them, 24/7, along with putting capitalism in the grave it’s so long deserved.

  4. Sam

    “Puerto Rico’s finances were ravaged by vulture funds”? Let’s not whitewash the years of government corruption and deficit financing that forced PR into the arms of vulture investors.

    1. JBird4049

      And let’s not whitewash the 122 years since the takeover of the colony by the United States. Followed by the serial overthrow of governments, assassinations, imprisonments, legalized theft of property and businesses, and the general looting of the colony directed by mainland financial interests with the the the help of Congress and using both federal law enforcement and the military.

      The whole place has been economically strip mined by American financial interests for over a century.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Cuba had a very similar history until the Hated Commyanists took over and kicked out the colonialists and the Mafia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Revolution The Wiki article is pretty soft and gentle on the details of “American” behavior toward Cuba and its people before the Revolution.

        Wonder why the people of our internal colonies, the states looted by the Special People, have not gone and done something similar. Oh, they are not an island, with the degree of protection that affords, and don’t have something like the Soviets or Chinese to cover them with a corner of their Great Game umbrellas…

        1. JBird4049

          American states do have the ability to tell their creditors to drop dead (Not that it is a good idea because who would lend any money then?) and the army cannot be sent in to rearrange things to suit Wall Street. However, as Puerto Rico is not a state and IIRC in the 1980s, someone mysterious inserted into some Congressional legislation forbidding it from being able to discharge its debts when declaring bankruptcy.

          There had been some question because of the whole not a state but a colony thing, but the courts had not ruled yet. The mystery part comes from the fact that nobody has been able to find out who did the actual insertion. It just appeared.

  5. Glen

    This is the fate of all America except for the .01%.

    Wake up people! You are all just fodder for the billionaires until you destroy the DC bubble and get your government back!

  6. Synoia

    Are other parts of the Caribbean experiencing earthquake swarms, or is Puerto Rico’s experience unique?

    1. derechos

      Currently only the southwest corner of Puerto Rico is experiencing this. But the entire island arc from Cuba thru Puerto Rico and south to Grenada – all are geologically active and have the potential for earthquakes as they sit on the edge of a tectonic plate. Several of these islands also have dormant volcanoes as well.

    2. derechos

      Currently only the southwest corner of Puerto Rico is experiencing this. But the entire island arc from Cuba thru Puerto Rico and south to Grenada – all are geologically active and have the potential for earthquakes as they sit on the edge of a tectonic plate. Several of these islands also have dormant volcanoes as well.

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