Mending Puerto Rico: Island natives living with new reality of constant uncertainty

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By: Ben Kaplan | WCTV Eyewitness News
March 4, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Puerto Rico continues to shake. For months, the island has been hit by non-stop earthquakes. The ground is constantly moving.

On Wednesday alone, the U.S. Geological Survey reported at least 28 small earthquakes.

Scientists say because Puerto Rico is wedged between two tectonic plates, there have always been small tremors. But, the recent bigger quakes have changed things, leaving lives still permanently rattled.

It's a normal Thursday night for the volunteer firefighters of Chaires-Capitola.

They're coming back from a call after dropping everything at a moment's notice to rush to the rescue.

A brotherhood of do-gooders, no matter where the good needs to be done.

"When I got to ground zero, it was more than I expected," said Edgardo Grajales. "It was worse."

When WCTV spoke with Grajales in January, the Puerto native was just hours from boarding a flight to lead a group of firefighters to his island to help.

"I had two patients with open heart surgery and they're literally outside, they're sun baked, and in the chest you could still see the staples from the surgery they had," he said.

Grajales says he saw these people, and many others, living in make-shift tent cities, too afraid to go indoors.

"They don't have a home to go back to and their camp was literally on the exit of a highway," he recalled.

Many homes and buildings were cracked at their core and the entire island felt the impact.

"We went to a small town, Jayuya, in the middle of the island. We saw houses, pillars breaking," Grajales says.

WCTV viewers know Jayuya well.

Dozens of roofs have been fixed by the Giselle Marie Foundation following Hurricane Maria. That effort was helped, in part, by funds and supplies donated in the Big Bend.

Now, our area is providing shelter again.

"He could see the entire house moving from side to side," Tallahassee resident David Medina says. He's translating for his father, Salvador Medina, talking about his house in Jayuya.

It survived, but David's parents recently spent several weeks in Tallahassee to escape the never-ending natural disaster they say is worse than Maria.

"My dad is saying Hurricane Maria came and left. This one is here and it's not gone yet," David translates.

And it might never be.

Florida A&M Geologist Dr. Michael Martinez-Colon says his native Island is always shaking.

"Puerto Rico sits in a tectonically active region. So, having earthquakes is normal," Dr. Martinez-Colon explained, pointing to a map of earthquakes that have hit the area between 1900 and 2015.

But, the big ones aren't normal. And, the good news is science suggests they won't be.

"So, the chances of a bigger magnitude earthquake are very slim," Dr. Martinez-Colon continued.

He points to a U.S. Geological Survey study projecting that, while smaller quakes will continue, chances of the bigger ones lessen significantly.

However, for many, the damage is done; infrastructure compromised. Martinez-Colon says workshops he was going to provide for science teachers on the island have been postponed.

"When I called my colleagues on the island to start scheduling the month of May, they told me let's reschedule for July, because on the southwest side, still we have schools that are closed," he said.

Once again, Puerto Rico is shaken.

The new normal: Constantly praying for some stability.

Grajales tells WCTV the Florida State Firefighters Association is not only working to assist Puerto Rico on ways to improve their volunteer firefighting services, they've also been active in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian.

In January, the Giselle Marie Foundation started sharing some of their roofing supplies with the hard-hit southwest side of Puerto Rico to help rebuild there. Once again, donations from the Big Bend are making an impact.

For more information on the Giselle Marie Foundation, click here.