These groups are aiding Puerto Rico post-earthquake

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Damage from earthquakes in southwestern Puerto Rico in January 2020 reduced many buildings to rubble.
Damage from earthquakes in southwestern Puerto Rico in January 2020 reduced many buildings to rubble. Photo Credit: Water Mission
Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

I've learned a lot about earthquakes in the past two weeks as I've followed the quakes that have shaken Puerto Rico's southwestern region.

Seismologists estimate that more than 1,280 earthquakes have hit that region since Dec. 28, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Among the strongest were the 5.8 magnitude quake on Jan. 6, followed by the  6.4 magnitude quake on Jan. 7 -- the most potent to hit the island in a century -- and the 5.9 magnitude aftershock on Jan. 11.

The tremors from all three knocked out power, destroyed  homes and businesses, toppled part of a rock-formation landmark, left at least one person dead and have frayed the nerves of thousands of frightened residents who fear more seismic activity and  landslides.

Puerto Rico is located along active tectonic plates that slide against and under each other. The plates are described as large irregularly shaped slabs of solid rock that make up the earth's crust and are continuously shifting and moving.

When one of the plates snaps under the pressure of another, the snap triggers an earthquake, according to the USGS.

The timing is unpredictable and scientists can only calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will occur in a specific area within a certain number of years, the USGS said.

What has not been hard to predict is the amazing outpouring of assistance and aid that has poured into the region by individuals, companies, relief organizations and grassroots support groups from all over.

I've seen this kind of outreach after the damage done in Abaco and Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian last September.

It happened too after hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed several Caribbean islands in 2017 and another quake decimated Haiti in 2010. Natural disasters seem to trigger from people a genuine desires to render any kind of aid to people and places in times of dire circumstances.

For example, the World Central Kitchen, founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, is on the ground in Puerto Rico, as it was in the Bahamas and Haiti, serving hot meals to families displaced by the earthquake. Less than one week after the Jan. 7 quake, World Central Kitchen was dispensing sandwiches and hot meals from more than 50 locations from three kitchens and three food trucks to government-run shelters and unofficial sites all over the impacted region.

Airbnb activated its Open Homes Program to connect hosts who are willing to provide free housing with displaced residents and disaster relief workers. Currently, the program is available through Jan. 31, according to Kristen Berlacher, Airbnb's head of Causes for Open Homes.

Islamic Relief USA has partnered with New York Disaster Interfaith Services, an organization that has helped many island residents who had to evacuate during Hurricane Maria. Members from both organizations are traveling to Puerto Rico to distribute emergency aid, such as water, buckets and dried goods. The second phase will consist of long-term recovery help.

Direct Relief organization offers support to healthcare providers in coordination with Puerto Rico's Department of Health, Hospital Association, Medical Reserve Corps. The group is organizing teams of doctors, nurses and mental health counselors to residents and those in shelters.

Some groups have been on the ground in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. All Hands and Hearts, a volunteer-powered nonprofit, which addresses the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters around the world, is one of them. It helps to remove debris, repair roofs and rebuild infrastructures.

Water Mission, too, has since Maria been working with local water authorities to create solar-operated water systems than can function if or when grid power is lost.

"Solar power can be used any time to provide water so that in natural disasters like we are seeing today in Puerto Rico, water can still be accessed by local communities," said Stefani Drake, its communications director. "We're monitoring the impact of the recent earthquakes, and thus far the infrastructure that Water Mission has created has had no impact."

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