Things That Matter

Christmas Brought A Pair Of Strong Earthquakes To Colombia And Left Residents Fleeing Their Homes

Colombia is no stranger of earthquakes. The country is located in a highly seismically active area – along the world’s ‘Ring of Fire.’ So the news of an earthquake on Christmas Day wasn’t a huge surprise given the country’s seismic activity, however, it still left many Colombians in shock as cities and towns shook from Bogota to Medellin.

Although the earthquake was strong, so far there are no reports of severe damage or deaths.

Central Colombia was shaken by two major earthquakes on Christmas Day.

Credit: The Weather Channel

Two strong quakes, of magnitude 6.0 and magnitude 5.8, struck central Colombia, according to the US Geological Survey. The quakes were strong enough that buildings shook.

The epicentres were very close to each other, about 93 miles south of the capital Bogota, and were very shallow, which amplified their effects and caused the shaking to be more widespread across the country.

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake is considered strong and is capable of causing severe damage, however, the area is not densely populated.

The quakes struck in the Caribbean Sea near the island of Providencia and about 19.9 miles from Lejanías, Colombia, according to the survey.

Shaking was felt across the nation’s capital city, Bogota.

Sirens howled across the Colombian capital of Bogota. According to many on Twitter, the sirens started in the middle of the shaking caused by the first earthquake and then gave several minutes warning before the second quake struck.

Like many countries along the Pacific Ring Of Fire, Colombia is home to a large earthquake monitoring system that allows officials to warn residents of impending earthquakes. Though the alarms often only give warnings of less than 90 seconds, this is often enough time to get outdoors or seek shelter in the most secure parts of one’s home.

Although shaking was felt across several major cities, the quake was centered in largely uninhabited areas.

The region of the epicenters is home to agriculture and oil activities, but the country’s disaster management agency said on its Twitter account it had not yet received any reports of damage.

A spokesperson for state-run oil company Ecopetrol, which has much of its infrastructure in the country’s eastern plains, said all installations were operating normally.

Earthquakes are relatively frequent in Colombia.

The Colombian region (in fact, the entire Pacific Coast of South America) has a well known high seismic risk, due to the triple junction that occurs at the northwest corner of the South American Plate where the Nazca, Cocos, and Pacific plates converge.

In fact, just 20 years ago Colombia was struck with a major 6.2 magnitude earthquake that left nearly 2,000 people dead. The earthquake hit Colombia’s coffee-growing region, and toppled tower blocks, hotels, and historic churches in Armenia. Most of the buildings that collapsed were old and poorly constructed, or were built on poor soil such as old landfill sites or steep slopes.The newer structures, for the most part, survived intact due to safety measures being established in 1984. The worst hit part of the country were regional capitals of Armenia and Pereira.

A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

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A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

@IGD_News / Twitter

Over the past two and a half weeks, Puerto Rico has experienced more than 1000 earthquakes. This number may seem unbelievable, but it’s true: after a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the island on January 7—the largest earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in more than a century—aftershocks have continued to jolt the island, leaving hundreds of people homeless, lacking supplies and electricity. Among the aftershocks was January 11’s 5.9 magnitude quake, which caused even further devastation, particularly to the southern part of the island. So far, the earthquakes have cost an estimated $200 million in damages, including the destruction of more than 800 homes.

But the damage hasn’t only been structural—several people are experiencing extreme anxiety as tremors continue to strike the island.

Credit: Facebook / ASSMCA Online

Officials from ASSMCA, Puerto Rico’s  Office of Mental Health Services and Addiction Prevention, have been making their rounds at outdoor shelters where displaced individuals and families have taken refuge, offering mental health support to those most affected by the quakes.

“These aftershocks are triggers for people,” Abdiel Dumeng, an ASSMCA employee, said in Spanish in an interview.”But I have to admit that we’ve seen a decrease in these kinds of crises, because we’ve been working together for a while, teaching people how to stay calm.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency over the next month and will be exponentially “lower in magnitude”. But in the meantime, Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management estimates that more than 8,000 people are staying in these outdoor shelters—fewer than half are in government-run shelters, while the rest are taking refuge in either informal spaces or shelters run by non-government organizations.

What exactly constitutes an “informal” shelter? Well, some folks have simply taken their beds outside, staying close to home while avoiding the potential dangers of being indoors. Others are crashing with relatives in towns that have experienced less damage than other areas.

Credit: StarTribune

In response to the 5.9 earthquake on January 11, Governor Wanda Vázquez said that she had declared a major state emergency following an initial assessment of the damages incurred. Vázquez also announced the immediate disbursement of $2 million for the towns of Guánica, Utuado, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce and Yauco, which experienced the most damage due to their proximity to the earthquakes’ epicenter. This $2 million was defined as a way to meet the towns’ most urgent needs—but now, ten days later, la gente está harta, because these needs still haven’t been met.

Just a few days ago, Vázquez fired two high-ranking officials in her administration: Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar. She also fired former Emergency Management Director Carlos Acevedo. The Governor’s reason for the dismissals was an alleged lack of information regarding aid collection and distribution centers.

This lack of information had to do with the discovery of a warehouse in Ponce that was filled with seemingly forgotten disaster supplies. But these supplies were not sent in response to the current crisis—they date back to when Hurricane Maria (a Category 4 storm) hit the island in September 2017.

Credit: Carlos Giusti / Associated Press

And people are understandably angry. On January 20, scores of demonstrators gathered in front of the Governor’s mansion in San Juan to demand her resignation. While the Governor seems to have tried addressing the issue with the dismissals mentioned above, several people are accusing her of not taking accountability for this appalling error, urging her to step down. And with demonstrators vowing to stay in the streets until Vázquez steps down, the current situation looks a lot like last summer’s demonstrations, which ultimately caused Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

When asked by NBC News what the “human impact” of this mistake is, Rafael Gonzalez—President of PROFESA, a Puerto Rican Professional Association that delivered aid during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—said, “We saw it on [sic] Maria. We saw what happens when you don’t deliver the supplies that people need. People die.”

Indeed, more than 3,000 people died as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria (not to mention highly insufficient disaster response on the part of the United States government). At this point, the recent series of earthquakes has resulted in one death and nine injuries. In an attempt to keep that number from rising, Jennifer Gonzales, Puerto Rico’s Commissioner to Congress, joined forces with five other members of Congress to send a letter to Donald Trump, asking him to sign a major disaster declaration that would bring federal funding to the recovery effort.

On January 16, Donald Trump responded by designating six hard-hit towns in the southern part of the island as major disaster areas. Hopefully this will result in an appropriate disaster response—one that will not negligently result in more forgotten aid.

Trump Refuses To Release Vital Aid To Puerto Rico In Wake Of Damaging Earthquakes

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Trump Refuses To Release Vital Aid To Puerto Rico In Wake Of Damaging Earthquakes

Eric Rojas / Getty

Over three dozen Democratic lawmakers have demanded Housing Secretary Ben Carson explain why the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department is breaking the law to withhold $8.3 billion in aid from Puerto Rico. 

Representative Nydia Valesquez led the charge in writing a letter signed by 41 Democrats to Carson on Monday, suggesting that the Trump administration has no real justification for withholding the hurricane readiness assistance. 

HUD was supposed to disburse $9.7 billion to the commonwealth beginning last September but has since only given $1.5 billion of the allocated funds, according to the New York Daily News. 

HUD says Puerto Rico won’t be getting their due funds anytime soon.

The nearly ten billion dollars in funds were allocated by congress to improve Puerto Rico’s natural disaster readiness in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes that killed roughly 3,000 people. The funds proved to be necessary when multiple earthquakes ranging from 4.1 to 6.4 in magnitude that left thousands without power. 

“We have repeatedly implored Secretary Carson to follow the law, do right by Puerto Rico and release the assistance our fellow citizens are legally due,” Velazquez told the Daily News.

HUD claims they are denying release of the funds due to corruption they cited no evidence of and failed to specify. The executive branch cannot legally withhold congressionally approved funds. 

“Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption and other abuses, we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most: the people of Puerto Rico,” the senior agency official told the Daily News. “Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million — less than 1% of those funds.” 

Democrats ban together to demand the release of the remaining funds to Puerto Rico. 

“Due to the new emergency at hand and the urgency of the situation, we are officially requesting an in-person meeting,” the Democrats wrote in the letter to Carson. “It is your responsibility as secretary of HUD to provide members of Congress an explanation as to why your department has chosen to violate the law by withholding these critical resources. Puerto Ricans have waited too long.”

Velazquez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, even wrote a separate letter to Carson, who has responded to neither effort. This isn’t the first time Democrats have led a charge against the Trump administration regarding funds to Puerto Rico. Just last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded the release of the aid which was approved for housing development, infrastructure needs, and economic revitalization.

“We call upon the White House to stop its unlawful withholding of funds from Puerto Rico,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference last week. “There are needs that need to be met, there has been a disaster designated, but the ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal.”

Velasquez told the Daily News that the Trump administration’s constant withholding of aide has a more sinister motivation. 

“The real motivation for withholding these dollars is Donald Trump’s disdain for the people of Puerto Rico and heartless disregard for their suffering,” Velazquez said

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he plans on leading a delegation to Puerto Rico this week to assess whether New York State can send additional disaster recovery. 

The Washington Post editorial board releases the op-ed “Puerto Ricans should never forget how Trump treated them.”

“Here’s what Puerto Rico has endured over the past two years: a devastating hurricane that killed and displaced thousands of people and plunged the island into months of darkness; an incompetent and corrupt local government; a bungled and halfhearted emergency response from the federal government,” the editorial board wrote. “Now, even as hurricane recovery remains incomplete, a new natural disaster: a 6.4-magnitude earthquake followed by powerful aftershocks.”

The earthquakes displaced 2,000 people without power, left nearly the entire island without electricity, and roughly 250,000 people without water. Trump approved $5 million in FEMA aid following the declaration of a state of emergency but the number pales in comparison to what Puerto Rico is owed. The Washington Post noted a study that showed the federal government responded more quickly and effectively to hurricanes in Texas and Florida — where Trump has a large deal of support — in comparison to hurricanes in Puerto Rico. 

Puerto Rico is owed an estimate of $18 billion in total congressionally approved recovery aide. 

“As opposed to erecting hurdles to recovery, the administration should be clearing a path, righting past wrongs and delivering the support our fellow American citizens so clearly need,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said

Among the letter to Carson’s signees were Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congressman Joaquin Castro, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Bernie Sanders, and other party members.