Courtesy of Ricardo Dominguez

Members of Despierta Boricua, a Puerto Rican student organization at Yale, are contemplating ways to help an island still reeling in the aftermath of a series of earthquakes.

According to the United States Geological Survey, over 1280 earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico since Dec. 28, several at a magnitude of 5 or greater. In response, DB is planning a series of programs to help affected individuals on the island. Christian Milian ’21, the recently elected president of DB, said that during the new board’s first meeting on Jan. 19, the group’s members discussed possible responses to the earthquakes. According to Milian, “many ideas came up” at the meeting, such as a drive or speaker series. He added that the group hopes to “garner support from the Yale community at large.”

“We believe that if we are going to address many of the island’s problems this semester, we need to take time to craft events that will be memorable and meaningful to individuals that are outside of the Puerto Rican community so that Puerto Ricans on the island are not forgotten,” Milian said.

In addition to the earthquakes, DB also wants to address the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the mismanagement of aid by government officials on the island.

According to a New York Times report, many Puerto Ricans have criticized their government’s response to the earthquakes. Recently, outrage over administrative failures escalated after the release of a video on Saturday that showed long-unused emergency aid sitting in a government-owned warehouse. There was no evidence of an effort to distribute the supplies, despite thousands of people preparing to spend their third week sleeping outside.

Gaby Garcia ’23, a Puerto Rican student, expressed her indignation at the release of the video.

“I was horrified to discover that thousands of people are being left to the mercy of government mismanagement, particularly at a time of such great need,” Garcia said. “My hope is that Yale students will stand in solidarity with Puerto Ricans and assist in the effort to rebuild the island’s infrastructure.”

In response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, DB held a drive to collect vital supplies for Puerto Ricans in need. Last year, they also partook in a sit-in at the Yale Investments Office to address the University’s alleged holdings in Puerto Rican debt and fossil fuels.

“Most of my family lost water and power for a number of days as a result of the earthquakes,” said Milian, who lived in Puerto Rico before moving to the United States and still has many family members on the island. “I worry most about the thousands of Puerto Ricans who live in the southern part of the island who have lost their homes and are sleeping outside or in shelters for the time being.”

Puerto Rican government officials say the earthquakes have already damaged more than 550 homes and caused $110 million in damage. A famed stone arch known as Punta Ventana, one of the island’s major tourist attractions, collapsed on Jan. 6 after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

Geology and Geophysics professor Mark Brandon explained that Puerto Rico is located in a very seismically active area, making the island susceptible to earthquakes.

“Puerto Rico lies along a major plate boundary, and, as a consequence, is affected,” said Brandon. “Haiti and the Dominican Republic are in a similar tectonic position, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake is another example of this kind of hazard.”

The island is located on the edge of the Caribbean plate which is moving towards the North American plate. When tectonic plates move towards each other, they build up friction over time and the sudden release of that tension causes earthquakes, according to Brandon. The longer the time between the earthquakes, the more tension builds up.

Brandon said that there is no ongoing research or future plans for research at Yale concerning the earthquakes in Puerto Rico. However, he emphasized that earthquake hazards can be reduced by monitoring and compiling information about their size and frequency.

“That information [can be used] to design a long term forecast to guide and/or regulate construction practices,” Brandon said. “It turns out that the main cause of injuries and death during an earthquake is poor building design. The implementation and regulation of building codes is the most important step forward.”

On Jan. 7, Puerto Rico experienced its most destructive quake in a century at a magnitude of 6.4.

Natalie Kainz | natalie.kainz@yale.edu

NATALIE KAINZ
Natalie Kainz currently serves as the editor of YTV — the video desk of the Yale Daily News. She also covers Yale and New Haven relations as a staff reporter. Originally from Hong Kong, she is a Sophomore in Silliman College majoring in Political Science.