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Fear Of Aftershocks Keep Many Puerto Ricans Out Of Their Homes

Jan 14, 2020
Originally published on January 14, 2020 10:41 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Many Puerto Ricans chose not to sleep in their homes again last night, and that is because they are afraid to. Since Saturday's massive earthquake, aftershocks continue to threaten vulnerable homes and buildings. Thousands of residents have already seen their homes give way.

Now, one looming question is whether President Trump is going to declare a major disaster, which would mean more federal aid for the island. Adi Martinez-Roman is a senior policy analyst at the humanitarian aid organization Oxfam America, and she's been touring the areas worst affected. She joins us this morning from San Juan.

Thank you for taking the time.

ADI MARTINEZ-ROMAN: Thank you, and thank you for giving me this space.

GREENE: Well, I know you've been seeing some of the areas that have been hardest hit. What is standing out to you in what you've been seeing?

MARTINEZ-ROMAN: Definitely the big fear of residents to go back into their homes has been a very impressive sight to see. Everybody is emotionally affected because the earth has not stopped trembling since December 28. This tremor started December 28. We had three strong earthquakes around January 6 and January 7, and now the earth keeps trembling.

Hundreds of homes were affected, totally destroyed. And you have close to thousands of structures that are affected, also, by cracks. And people are just not wanting to go back into any structure that has a solid roof. And that is really impressive. The emotional charge of this tragedy just complicates the lingering damages from the hurricanes in 2017.

GREENE: Well, I want to ask you - I mean, President Trump has approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico in the wake of the big earthquake. You're now calling for something more - a major disaster declaration. What is the difference between the two? What would that do?

MARTINEZ-ROMAN: Yes, the emergency disaster declaration is the basic one, just activates Section B of the Stafford Act. That means that the aid that we will receive is only directed to debris removal, public structures and help for the shelters. So the individual assisted help that people need in order to get resources to survive the emergency and be relocated to safer places, like hotels or other homes in other areas, that aid has not been activated because the declaration of a major disaster has not been approved by the president.

GREENE: So there's this larger question here. The Trump administration says, you know, they're committed to helping and getting aid to Puerto Rico. But there's this history of corruption there. And they want to make sure that money actually gets to people and not politicians. Is that a fair point, that they want to do this prudently?

MARTINEZ-ROMAN: We definitely think it is important to get the money to people and to build back resiliently, but withholding the funds is not the answer. In Puerto Rico, the agencies in charge of reconstruction and recovery have not been found with any corruption charges.

But we are advocating for civil society involvement and the creation of a civil society task force in order to attend to concerns of transparency and accountability. But definitely, the funds have to be released, and they have to get to the people that need it the most and - in order to reconstruct in a resilient way.

GREENE: Speaking to Adi Martinez-Roman - she's a senior policy analyst at Oxfam America. She is in Puerto Rico talking to us from San Juan.

Thank you so much.

MARTINEZ-ROMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.