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President Trump Approves Emergency Declaration for Puerto Rico After Destructive Earthquakes

St. Thomas 𑁋 On Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico and ordered federal assistance to supplement local response efforts after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake rocked the southern area of the island.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after a series of earthquakes killed at least one person, toppled structures and crippled much of the island’s power grid that is home to more than 3 million people. Two large power plants are currently out of operation and, drinking water was cut off to at least 300,000 customers, Vazquez told reporters in a press conference.

The emergency declaration will render support to the territory for earthquakes that began on December 28, 2019, including the powerful aftershocks that have rocked the region. The 6.4 magnitude earthquake — the largest in a series of regional tremors — has been recorded as the most powerful to impact the island in 102 years.

Trump authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to alleviate “the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all 78 municipalities in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” the White House said in a Wednesday release.

The White House statement said that Trump gave FEMA the authority to “identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment, and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.” Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance will be provided at 75 percent federal funding. Pete Gaynor, the Acting Administrator of FEMA named Alexis Amparo as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Vazquez said power should be restored to most of the island within 24 to 48 hours, adding schools on island will remain closed and non-essential public employees — not to include health workers and police officers — will stay home on Wednesday while checks are made on the structural safety of buildings. “There are people who have lost their lives, there are people who have lost all their property,” Reporters were not given further details on the extent of damage to structures and injuries to residents.

Puerto Rico’s electricity authority said it hoped to re-establish service by sunset in the metropolitan area of San Juan, which is home to about 2.3 million people. Bottled water, batteries and flashlights began to run low at supermarkets in San Juan and caches of ice were also depleted as residents rushed to keep foods from rotting in their refrigerators.

Officials said least 346 people were left homeless, after homes collapsed, severely impacting the south of the island. Damaged buildings sat next to piles of rubble and some residents began sleeping outside in tents following Tuesday’s historic earthquake. 

Puerto Rico has been rocked by hundreds of quakes since December 28th, including 10 of magnitude 4 or greater, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Following Tuesday’s destructive earthquakes, officials at the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency said the agency “stands in solidarity with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as high magnitude earthquakes impact the region over the past two days.