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Puerto Rico Rocked By Series Of Powerful Earthquakes


In Puerto Rico, a state of emergency has been declared after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck in the early hours of yesterday morning. People across the island woke up to find crumbled walls, destroyed homes, also downed power lines. This was the latest and most powerful of a series of quakes to shake the region. Now, Puerto Rico has, of course, lived through hurricanes, but the governor, Wanda Vazquez, put this in perspective. She said when it comes to the earthquake, the island had not seen this kind of emergency in more than a century. Luis Trelles is reporting on this in San Juan. He's a producer with the NPR podcast Radio Ambulante and joins me now. Hi, Luis.


GREENE: So first, tell me what it felt like when this earthquake hit.

TRELLES: Yeah, so I was actually awake around 4:30 in the morning yesterday when my own building started to shake pretty violently. I had lived through something like that before, not in Puerto Rico, and it was a big scare.

GREENE: I mean - and what kind of damage did it cause, as you start to see what impact this had?

TRELLES: Well, I'm in San Juan, in the capital city in the northeast of the island, so there wasn't major damage reported here, thankfully. Most of the damage was concentrated along the southern coast of the island. And one thing you have to understand, David, is that this earthquake comes at the heels of daily tremors that have been occurring in Puerto Rico for over a week and a half now. So that adds to the, you know, insecurity that a lot of people here feel. As you know, we're accustomed to hurricanes, but earthquakes are kind of a new thing for most Puerto Ricans.

GREENE: And tell me about where the worst damage was, what part of the island and what you've been learning about how bad it was.

TRELLES: Yes, so a lot of the damage was concentrated around the town of Guayanilla, Ponce and Yauco, three towns in the southern coast of the island. Local authorities confirmed the death of a 73-year-old man in the town of Ponce, and other towns like Guayanilla were especially hard hit. Several houses and buildings crumbled. At least one public school plummeted to the ground. And some area hospitals had to be evacuated. And we've been experiencing a prolonged blackout after the earthquake, which has left most of the island residents without electricity.

GREENE: I mean, you mentioned that going through an earthquake is different from a hurricane, but I imagine, for a lot of people on the island, that there have to be flashbacks to what you went through in Hurricane Maria in 2017.

TRELLES: Oh, yeah. For many, the situation here brings an unwelcome flashback to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. I mean, that experience left an estimated 3,000 deaths and a power outage that lasted from three to five months for most residents here on the island and also a lingering sense that both the local government and federal authorities were not prepared to handle that disaster.

GREENE: Do people feel like their government - and I mean both at the local and federal level - are prepared this time?

TRELLES: I don't think so. I think there's a sense that Puerto Rico's infrastructure took a really hard hit with Hurricane Maria and that there is a sense that it's not ready to handle a major catastrophe right now.

GREENE: Luis Trelles is a producer for the NPR podcast Radio Ambulante, reporting from San Juan. Thanks a lot.

TRELLES: Thank you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBINATE'S "THE MEANWHILE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Luis Trelles
Luis Trelles is a senior editor on NPR's Enterprise Storytelling Unit, where he helps shape international stories that hit close to home for the Rough Translation podcast.