Major Disaster Declaration in Puerto Rico After Earthquakes: White House

January 16, 2020 Updated: January 16, 2020

President Donald Trump, on Thursday, approved a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico in the wake of several damaging earthquakes over the past several weeks.

The declaration allows Puerto Rico to use federal funding in Guanica, Guayanilla, Penuelas, Ponce, Utuado, and Yauco municipalities.

“Damage assessments are continuing in other areas, and more municipalities and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed,” the White House said in a statement.

The declaration will make available assistance, including grants for home repairs and temporary housing, low-cost loans to cover losses, and “other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the statement said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vásquez Garced declared a state of emergency following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit Puerto Rico on Jan. 7, setting off a series of aftershocks. But numerous earthquakes have hit the island since Dec. 28. Trump on Jan. 8 also signed an emergency declaration.

On Thursday, lawmakers in the House introduced an emergency aid package to assist Puerto Rico. The New York Times reported that the aid package is worth about $3.3 billion and includes $1.25 billion to repair roads and $2 billion in general disaster relief.

“When we return from the district work period, the House will vote on an emergency supplemental for #PuertoRico to provide assistance as the island recovers from earthquakes. House Dems are proud to stand with #OurFellowAmericans & help them recover & rebuild stronger than before,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) the majority leader, tweeted.

The House is slated to reconvene on Jan. 27, according to a schedule on its website.

More than 1,200 earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico’s southern region since Dec. 28, 2019, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

In a forecast bulletin on Wednesday, the USGS said there are several scenarios for the seismic activity in the coming days.

“The most likely scenario is that aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency over the next 30 days and will be significantly lower in magnitude than the M6.4 that occurred on the 7 January 2020 (i.e., will be less than M6.0). Some of these moderately sized aftershocks (M5.0+) may cause localized damage, particularly in weak structures. Smaller magnitude earthquakes (M3.0+), when at shallow depth, may be felt by people close to the epicenters,” the agency said. There is a 79 percent chance of this happening within the next 30 days.

“A less likely scenario is an earthquake occurring of similar size as the M6.4 event. This is called a ‘doublet’: when two large earthquakes of similar size occur closely in time and location. This earthquake could cause additional damage in the same region and increases the number of aftershocks,” it said, adding that there is an 18 percent chance of this occurring in the same time frame.

The USGS said there is a 3 percent chance of a more massive earthquake occurring.