Puerto Ricans standing on faith amid fear of deadly aftershocks

puerto rico earthquake
Wanda Santana (C in wheelchair) prays along members pf her familiay at the refugee camp located at the Mariano Rodríguez Coliseum on January 11, 2020 in Guanica, Puerto Rico. Saturday morning's quake was the most powerful aftershock following Tuesday's 6.4 earthquake. |

Puerto Ricans have been praying under a massive cloud of uncertainty about the future since suffering yet another 5.9-magnitude tremor after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the island last Tuesday, leaving one person dead and significant damage to buildings.

“A prayer circle in Ponce, Puerto Rico with a rainbow above at a time when earthquakes aftershocks are causing damage & fear - here, there's a refusal to be mentally defeated, and for many people, a faith fueled belief that things will be better,” CBS This Morning lead correspondent, David Begnaud shared in a tweet from Puerto Rico Sunday amid reports of thousands sleeping outdoors to escape calamity.

The tremor on Saturday was about 8 miles south of Indios in the Caribbean Sea, the US Geological Survey said, at a depth of 6.2 miles.

On Sunday, the USGS also highlighted three likely scenarios that could play out for the earthquake-battered island over the next 30 days, including a 3% chance of “an earthquake significantly larger than the M6.4 that occurred on the 7 January.”

“A much less likely scenario than the previous two scenarios is that recent earthquakes could trigger an earthquake significantly larger than the M6.4 that occurred on the 7 January (i.e., M7.0 and above). While this is a very small probability, if such an earthquake were to occur, it would have serious impacts on communities nearby. This size earthquake would also trigger its own aftershock sequence, so the rate of small and moderate earthquakes would increase again,” the agency stated.

The USGS noted that the most likely scenario they expect to unfold based on the current seismic activity is that aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency “and will be significantly lower in magnitude than the M6.4 that occurred on the 7 January.”

It was also noted that an earthquake occurring of similar size as the magnitude 6.4 tremor last Tuesday could also occur in an event called a “doublet.” A doublet emerges when two large earthquakes of similar size occur closely in time and location. If this happens, additional damage as well as increased aftershocks is likely.

“Only one of these scenarios will occur within the next month. These scenarios will change over time, like our forecast. The earthquakes in these scenarios would occur in the areas where aftershocks are happening now. Earthquakes in this sequence will continue to occur for days, months, or potentially years to come. It is very unlikely the aftershocks will cease completely within the next month,” the USGS said.

“Too much,” Israel Vélez Irizarry, 49, told The New York Times as he sought shelter in his car outside his aunt’s house. He, his wife and their three children have already spent several nights outdoors waiting for the tremors to end.

Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Día, reported 73-year-old Nelson Martínez Guillén as the first casualty of last Tuesday’s earthquake. A wall from his home in Ponce collapsed on him as he slept.

Many Puerto Ricans are trying to avoid a similar fate by staying outdoors.

“We haven’t been able to shower or anything,” Vélez told The New York Times. “It shakes and it shakes — and it looks like it wants to keep going.”

He and his wife, Desirée Rodríguez, 33, along with their children planned to fly on Sunday to Kentucky to stay with his oldest son.

More than 50 members of the Church of the Immaculate Conception that was destroyed in Guayanilla during last Tuesday’s quake gathered on Sunday under white tents by the side of the church for their first mass since the tremor.

“We are fine physically, but emotionally, we are not,” Luz Torres, 52, told the Times ahead of the Mass. “This has changed our lives.”

Daniel Amici who witnessed the damage caused by the tremors in Puerto Rico first hand said his prayers are with the residents after returning from the island on Saturday.

“We lose power, we lose it for a maximum of a week. You know, over there, they lost power for months at a time. It’s not really done around here so … just prayers out to them,” Amici of Waterbury, Connecticut, told Fox61.

Noonday Association, a diverse network of 125 churches in Greater Atlanta, said three of their churches in Puerto Rico are now being used as shelters by about 1,500 people.

“PUERTO RICO NEEDS YOUR HELP! 3 of our churches have now become emergency shelters housing about 500 people at each. Our partners are serving 3 meals a day & are helping people/families all across the affected region (Southwest PR). So many families have been displaced. So many are sleeping outdoors because they are understandably fearful of their homes collapsing,” the network said in a statement on Instagram. “Earthquakes/tremors are happening almost hourly. Even those who are physically okay are emotionally and mentally distraught.”

The ministry noted that several pastors will be going to Puerto Rico on Thursday to assist with relief work.

Last Tuesday’s earthquake alone wreaked an estimated $110 million in damage. The island’s Gov. Wanda Vázquez asked the federal government on Saturday to approve a major disaster declaration to clear the way for additional federal assistance, including funds for temporary housing, the Times reported. An initial emergency declaration was approved by President Donald Trump last week.

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