By Joel Jacobs
The town of Guánica in southern Puerto Rico is still reeling from a series of earthquakes that began in late December.
The largest — a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck around 4:24 a.m. on Jan. 7 — was followed by a 5.6-magnitude aftershock a few hours after, and a 5.9 temblor later in the week.
The quake knocked out power across the island. At least one person was killed and thousands slept outside their homes in Guánica and the surrounding municipalities on Puerto Rico’s southern coast.
Guánica is one of the hardest hit areas. Over a month after the Jan. 7 quake, the streets of the town remained nearly empty, and damaged homes could be seen on almost every block.
“You can tell on the faces of the municipal employees [in Guánica] that they are not well,” said Helga Maldonado, regional director of the nonprofit ESCAPE.
Although ESCAPE primarily focuses on domestic and child abuse issues, Maldonado said that she and others stepped up to distribute aid after the Puerto Rican central government failed to adequately respond to the disaster.
Hundreds of smaller aftershocks and tremors continue to shake the region. In mid-February, Puerto Rico National Guard members continued serving meals to 350 people at a formal tent city in Guánica. Smaller, informal setups of camping tents could be seen dotted across the municipality.
Marcos Villa Lassala, a 49-year-old fisherman, had been sleeping at the tent city for over a month. His house was damaged by the earthquakes, but fortunately not destroyed, and he visits his home daily to feed his pets.
His family lives in the United States. “I tell them I’m okay just so they won’t worry about me,” he said.
Lassala waited to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, but expects only about $500. After he receives the aid and gets his home straightened out, he plans to move to the mainland United States, following the path of many others who have left Guánica in the wake of the earthquakes.