YAUCO, Puerto Rico — “People are still very scared,” Jonathan Santiago said of residents in Puerto Rico who endured a 6.4 magnitude earthquake early Tuesday morning (Jan. 7). The ensuing aftershocks and tremors have been ongoing, and it is nearly impossible to predict when they will cease.
Santiago, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send Relief missionary in Puerto Rico, has been traveling throughout the island to coordinate a response through local churches.
“Most of the homes I passed, people were outside their houses not inside,” Santiago said. “There were mattresses and tents set out in yards because people were too afraid to sleep in their homes.”
An estimated 80 percent of the island was without power Tuesday evening, and 24 percent were without water due to those power outages affecting pumping systems. Service slowly began returning to customers Wednesday morning according to Reuters, and officials expect power to return to much of the island within a day or two assuming no further earthquakes strike.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency, and President Donald Trump also signed an emergency declaration.
Santiago has been working with three churches in the most affected areas on the south side of the island. Emergency resources such as food and water that Send Relief had stored in case of natural disaster have been delivered to Iglesia Bautista La Gracia (Grace Baptist Church) in Yauco and Iglesia de la Comunidad (Community Church) in Guayanilla after dozens of residents arrived seeking help and shelter.
“The mayor of Yauco has recognized the church there as one of the town’s official shelters. So, we are looking to plan accordingly for possibly more people to arrive,” said Santiago.
Another church in Ponce, Iglesia Bautista Rio Chiquito (Chiquito River Baptist Church), had nearly 60 people stay overnight Tuesday, and Santiago has been working with pastor Gerardo Lebrón to accommodate the need for supplies there.
Felix Cabrera, NAMB’s Send City Missionary in Puerto Rico and executive director for the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico, has been connecting with pastors around the island to assess needs and encourage them as they serve their congregations and communities.
“Pray for our churches and for Jonathan Santiago because he is far away from his family, serving our churches and communities,” said Cabrera.
The 6.4 earthquake Tuesday followed a 5.8 magnitude quake that struck a little further off the coast Monday (Jan. 6). The quakes caused at least one fatality in Ponce and destroyed dozens of homes and structures around Puerto Rico.
This earthquake comes two years after the lethal Hurricane Maria swept over the island in 2017. Maria traversed the island’s northeast side, while the earthquakes have had particularly devastating effects on the island’s southwest side.
Guánica Mayor Santos Seda, on the island’s southern coast, told the Associated Press that for residents in his region of the U.S. territory, “We are confronting a crisis worse than Hurricane Maria.”