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Earthquakes Trigger Anxiety In Puerto Rico: 'There's No Way To Prepare'


Now to Puerto Rico, where hundreds of small tremors that began last month culminated in a 6.4 magnitude earthquake this past Tuesday. The earthquake killed one man, damaged hundreds of homes and left millions without electricity. Since then, there have been many large aftershocks, including a magnitude 5.9 just this morning that inflicted more damage in the most-affected area along Puerto Rico's southwestern coast. All this has people on edge, and many refused to sleep inside their own homes. NPR's Adrian Florido has this report from Puerto Rico.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Leticia Espada (ph) had just gotten up to take her dog out when the big quake struck on Tuesday at 4:24 a.m.

LETICIA ESPADA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "It was horrible," she said. "It opened the closet. It opened the refrigerator. Things came flying out of drawers. It was like a hammock." The creaking sounds terrified her. In her neighborhood, cracks appeared along the sides of houses. In her town, Guayanilla, more than 50 collapsed. That night, she, like most of her neighbors, slept outside on the patio - or tried to, at least.

ESPADA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I'm so scared I won't even close my eyes during the day," she said. Espada stayed on her patio three nights, hoping the aftershocks would subside. They haven't. So finally, on Friday evening, she came to the baseball stadium in her town. In the outfield, the mayor had set up a couple hundred cots. Espada, in pink pajama pants and fluffy slippers, settled into one. I feel a little more protected here, she said.

ESPADA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: She has some medical conditions, so it reassured her to have medics on hand.

ESPADA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Espada said these earthquakes have been so scary that she'd rather have 20 Hurricane Marias than another earthquake because with a hurricane, you at least know it's coming, she said. There's no way to prepare for an earthquake. She said the anxiety has been maddening. Mental health advocates on the island fear the impact of all this anxiety for people still coping with trauma from Hurricane Maria.

The earthquakes have echoed the hurricane in other ways. Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power after the quake damaged one of the island's main power plants. Paola Gonzalez (ph) is one of the volunteers at the stadium shelter.

PAOLA GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: She said she had to help an old woman who was panicking because she couldn't find ice to chill her insulin.

GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Gonzalez said that since Tuesday, this open-air shelter has had about 300 people staying here full-time and a lot more who show up at night just to sleep. Many are old people who show up alone. It's not just seniors, though. There are also kids. And on Friday night, a troupe of circus performers showed up to entertain them.



FLORIDO: Nelson Torres, Guayanilla's mayor, told me he doesn't know how long he'll keep this shelter open.

NELSON TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I can't give you a date," he said, "because we don't know when it's going to stop shaking."

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Guayanilla, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.