Could Generate Higher Migration to Florida
Puerto Rico’s population loss to Florida and other states had begun to stabilize when the recent series of earthquakes that killed at least one person and produced power and water outages rattled the island, sending some people packing for less shakier turf such as Florida.
The seismic shifts – over 500 in the past seven days and which Earth & Space Science News called a “rare swarm” – are the worst in over 50 years. The publication defined swarm as “where there isn’t a clear dominant [quake] early in the sequence and then a tapering.”
Coming just two years after the underwhelming recovery response following Hurricane María, Puerto Ricans know they are on their own. They cannot count on anyone, least of all local or federal government. Nearly any economic or disaster event has the potential to unmoor hundreds if not tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans from the island.
In the months after Hurricane María an unprecedented 50,000 Puerto Rican migrants flew to Florida, about double the number of yearly arrivals. Florida, with a Puerto Rican diaspora of over 1 million, the largest of any state, is a beacon of hope and stability in times of trouble in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Is Still Fragile
Although the seismic shifts are unlikely to produce another migrant tsunami, they serve as a reminder that Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans are still fragile, and could hit the exit button.
With the Trump administration deliberately withholding needed funds, a return to normal is still far out in the future. Over $100 billion in federal funds were approved after Hurricane María, but only about $14 billion has reached the island. Most recently, HUD has withheld $18 billion that Congress already appropriated related to Hurricane María. That’s just one agency.
This week Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio joined Puerto Rico’s nonvoting congressional delegate Jenniffer González-Colón in asking the Trump administration to rush aid to Puerto Rico following the recent earthquakes and Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced‘s request for a disaster declaration. Scott, who played a big role in Florida’s response to Hurricane María, and González toured hard-struck areas of Guánica Friday.
“We write in support of the Governor’s request and urge that you instruct the different agencies of the executive branch … to promptly provide the necessary support. The localities that are grappling with the effects of the earth tremors are smaller municipalities that do not have the necessary resources to handle the situation alone.”
Officials Tour Island
The officials reminded the administration that Puerto Rico remains in an economic slump, making recovery more difficult. “Puerto Rico local agencies are taxed to their limits by their fiscal condition and the continuing larger recovery effort,” the statement said.
Before the earthquakes struck, Puerto Rico had gained 340 people between 2018 and 2019, according to census officials. It was the first year that Puerto Rico, stuck in a recession for over 10 years, hadn’t lost population in several years.
Seismic activity in Puerto Rico is not new, as two tectonic plates lie just offshore of the island. A 7.3 quake called San Fermín struck the island near Aguadilla in 1918, resulting in 116 fatalities and causing $4 million in damages, according the the Puerto Rico Seismic Network. That’s equal to $68.1 million in damages in today’s dollars.
More Earthquakes of Greater Intensity
What is new is the number and intensity of the quakes. As of this writing, 30 earthquakes have shaken Puerto Rico’s southwest coast in the last 24 hours, ranging in intensity from a 5.9 near Guánica at about 8:30 this morning to a 2.1 near La Parguera in Lajas about an hour before that.
Puerto Rico has recorded 531 earthquakes in the past seven days and nearly 4,600 in the past year, according to earthquake track.com. Most of the shakes have been in the 3 to 4 range, considered minor; a 5 is rated mild and a six is moderate quake that can produce property damage. Anything over 7 is considered serious.
However moving from one number to the next highest can produce a quake with an intensity that’s 10 or more times greater than the last. “This is a really shallow earthquake. And so because of that, that tends to make the shaking significantly more impressive [and] have greater impact,” states Earth and Space Science News.
Anxious, Shocked and Scared
Understandably, people are anxious, shocked and scared. On Facebook, friends have posted about their flights back to the states. One said his JetBlue flight to New York City was filled with elderly folks from south Puerto Rico, the center of the earthquakes.
Another wrote that she can’t sleep, go to the bathroom or learn how to live without fear.
“Ya no hay forma de dormir, de bañarte, de ir al baño. No puedes cerrar los ojos, sientes q todo tiembla en todo momento, te obsesiona saber si temblo o no, no sabes si correr, si llorar, si tirarte al piso, no sé cómo rayos aprender a vivir sin temor.”
Unfortunately, more earthquakes are likely to come. “The [United States Geological Survey] aftershock forecast predicts as many as 160 small aftershocks of at least [magnitude] 3 in the next week and a 7% chance that Puerto Rico will experience another earthquake larger than 6.4,” according to Earth and Space Science News.
The magazine states the aftershock forecasts are still a “work in progress,” meaning everyone both allá and aquí should remain alert to developments.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor