Americares Puerto Rico team is responding to a series of earthquakes that have added fresh trauma for the people of the beleaguered island. In the most destructive of a series of earthquakes over recent days, a 6.4 earthquake struck off the coast at around 4:24am local time on January 7. The USGS reported the earthquake hit just south of the island at a shallow depth of roughly six miles.
Hundreds of aftershocks are continuing with the latest at 6.0. One death and some injuries have been reported thus far. There has been damage to buildings and infrastructure with most of the damage in the southwest coastal region. News reports indicate the January 7 earthquake is the strongest on record to hit Puerto Rico since 1918. Power was shut off proactively across the island for safety purposes and has come back on in most areas. The island’s power grid remains fragile and vulnerable to the aftershocks.
Americares deployed an Emergency Response Team from its office in San Juan to assist families affected by the recent earthquakes in the southwest part of the island. The team, which includes psychologists, a social worker and a counselor, is providing mental health and psychosocial support services for families temporarily staying in emergency shelters and is conducting welfare checks in the hardest-hit areas. Americares is also providing Psychological First Aid and delivering a shipment of hygiene kits that will be distributed to families in affected communities.
“In some of the hardest-hit communities thousands of people are sleeping outdoors for fear of aftershocks,” said Americares Mental Health and Psychosocial Program Manager Miguel Marrero who has been going door-to-door assisting earthquake survivors in Guánica and Ponce. “Your house is supposed to be a safe place, but people are afraid to return home or are now suddenly homeless. We are helping survivors manage stress and anxiety and connecting those in need of follow-up care with mental health providers in their communities.”
Two years after Hurricane Maria, Americares now operates a thriving regional office in San Juan, focused on strengthening the local health system, responding to emergencies and promoting mental health and disaster preparedness.