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home : news : national news free February 25, 2020

1/10/2020 12:47:00 PM
Puerto Ricans settle in quake shelters, refuse to go home

GUAYANILLA, Puerto Rico (AP) — A new community has popped up in this earthquake-damaged town in southwest Puerto Rico: it houses 300 people, a dozen police officers and one macaw.

Cries of “Uno!” filled the air early this morning as children on cots played card games while men with a pillow under their arm and sleep in their eyes went to work. Many families in this dusty baseball park converted into a makeshift outdoor shelter live nearby. But they can’t or won’t return home because their walls are cracked, their houses have collapsed or they’ve been indefinitely evacuated after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to declare an emergency in the U.S. territory.

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power and water, and thousands are staying in shelters and sleeping on sidewalks since Tuesday’s earthquake. The tremor killed one person, injured nine others and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and several schools and businesses in the island’s southwest region.

The unusual seismic activity and strong aftershocks have delayed recovery efforts, caused a spike in people staying in government shelters like the one in Guayanilla and unleashed panic among thousands of Puerto Ricans.

“I’ve reached the point where I’m getting on my knees in the street to pray, and I’m even listening to Christian music,” said Irma Vega, a 45-year-old caretaker for the elderly. “It’s been 20 years since I’ve worshipped.“

Another aftershock of 4.36-magnitude hit overnight, causing people in the shelter to yell “It’s shaking! It’s shaking!”as some sat upright in their cots.

City officials said a woman, identified as Noelia Artruz, died from a heart attack following the aftershock. They said earlier information that her home had collapsed was incorrect.

Government officials are trying to calm and distract people by turning some shelters into a makeshift community. At the baseball park in Guayanilla late Thursday night — the town’s largest one — volunteers played the movie “Dinosaur,” for a dozen small children who sat enraptured and cross-legged as generators roared in the background and the elderly nestled under blankets in the chilly air and tried to sleep.

Nearby, older children kicked up dust as they chased each other on bicycles, prompting volunteers to yell, “Watch out!”

People still trickled into the baseball field close to midnight, including 74-year-old Lydia Ramos. She dragged a small suitcase with her right hand and carried her 10-year-old Chihuahua, “Princess,” in her left as the dog snuggled into a pink blanket.

“Find me a little cot,”she told volunteers as she recounted the recent nights at home. “My home is shaking from side to side... I’m even scared to take a shower... I’m so ready to leave.“

Ramos spent the night on an army green cot and left early Friday morning for New York to temporarily stay with her son. But for those who cannot afford to fly to the U.S. mainland, the future is uncertain.

“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” said 27-year-old Eddie Caraballo as he walked around with a small speaker playing reggaeton to cheer himself up. “They evacuated all of us. All of us.“

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