Puerto Rico Update on 2020 Earthquakes

Dear Atma Community,

I wanted to give you an update on what is happening in Puerto Rico right now, since the earthquakes that left the entirety of the island without power. We want to thank you so much for your support of Atma. Puerto Rico is an island that remains unprepared for disaster, and there is a tremendous need to build more resilience. 

Since the earthquake I had to travel from where I live on the outskirts of San Juan to my father’s place where there is a generator. When I talk to people on the street, they say that this event is reminiscent to the period after Hurricane María. Many communities are anxiously waiting for the return of light and some communities are even without water. 

The governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez, declared a state of emergency on the island amidst the earthquakes which collapsed the fragile electric utility and left the entire island without power, killing one person, and affecting infrastructure in several communities in the southern portion of the island. 

Both quakes were felt in the San Juan metropolitan area. Residents awoke for the second, bigger quake at 4:24AM on January 7th, a 6.4 magnitude tremor which took out the electricity for the whole island. I quickly sprang out of bed, picked up my daughter, and ran for the door. Many friends who live closer to the epicenter have shared that they are sleeping outside out of fear that their house will collapse like so many already have. Public offices have suspended services and few businesses with generators have opened to provide services to the public. 

The day carried on and there was no news from the power utility company except for the occasional tweet to inform they were inspecting power plants and that they hoped to soon have electricity up and running. Longer and longer lines started to form at gas stations by people trying to get  fuel to power their generators, to keep their groceries from spoiling in the fridge, and to power fans to get some relief from the heat. In my household, I  already emptied out my fridge, tossed refrigerated goods that I have nowhere to keep into the trash – knowing that power is not going to be restored before Friday, and trying to avoid a mold problem. In the early evening, a press conference was held by the governor and the electric utility’s CEO to announce that two of the power plants that provide electricity to 67% of the demand in Puerto Rico had suffered significant damages. They informed the public that soon they would have energy restored to 70-80% of the island residents but with no guarantee of a date or time.

It is estimated that around 750 people have sought refuge at different shelters set up throughout the southern municipalities on the island, but this number is grossly underestimated. A shelter in Yauco, a municipality in the southwestern portion of the island, is reporting that 1,500 people have sought refuge. 

In January, we plan to work with youth in communities using citizen journalism to survey community members and identify the most vulnerable people. This FEMA trained youth corps will be using AtmaGo to document their experience of surveying the community, highlight essential resources within the community, and build social connectedness. We look forward to keeping you updated on our work.

Thank you again for your support, together we are building neighbor to neighbor resilience in the most vulnerable communities. 


Natasha Mevs-Korff
Operations and Program Associate, Puerto Rico
Atma Connect 

P.S. Follow us on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook to find out more about our work on the disaster in Puerto Rico and on the flooding in Jakarta. If you’d like, donate to support this work. Thanks again.



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