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Earthquake-damaged buildings cripple Puerto Rico

Hundreds of buildings in Puerto Rico's second-largest city, Ponce, are damaged and officials in the area are worried the buildings will collapse if aftershocks continue to terrorize the city. CNN's Rafael Romo reports.

Posted: Jan 17, 2020 1:30 PM
Updated: Jan 17, 2020 1:30 PM

The Ponciana Condominium building here is one of the most distinctive in the island's second-largest city. It's a 12-story structure, just south of downtown, with medical and commercial units on its first three floors and residential units on the remaining nine.

But after a series of tremors and aftershocks that have rattled Puerto Rico's southern coast since December 28, the tower now sits empty.

Ponce authorities declared it uninhabitable shortly after a mandatory evacuation prompted by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake left cracks and fissures on three sides of the building. Ivette Campos says her elderly aunt was one of those residents who were quickly evacuated.

"They kicked all the residents out as well as people in the doctors' offices, and nobody truly knows what's going to happen with the building," Campos said.

Mayor María E. Meléndez said that there are areas in Ponce that "were severely affected and we estimate the damage to be above $200 million, in addition to the losses sustained by businesses that have had to shut their doors."

The Ponciana is one of 23 condominium buildings in Ponce that have sustained structural damage, according to Ángel Vázquez Torres, the local emergency management agency's director.

Vázquez told CNN the same happened with an additional 404 houses in the city.

The fear is that if there's another major earthquake, some of these structures may collapse, trapping residents or worse.

"Our structural engineers evaluated those sites and indicated to us which ones we had to declare uninhabitable, and we're trying to keep people away from them," Vázquez told CNN.

Authorities say there also are countless buildings and houses that may have sustained damage that is not visible during the nearly three weeks of daily tremors and aftershocks that have happened in Ponce and towns located on the island's southern coast.

The work of detecting the damage in Ponce, Guánica, Guayanilla and Yauco is only beginning.

It's another great challenge for Puerto Rico, a US territory that has yet to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 in September 2017.

Buildings that had been damaged by the hurricanes simply collapsed or were left in worse shape by the earthquakes and aftershocks. The same happened to other infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

Deciding what to do next with damaged buildings is still an open question for Puerto Rico. Repairs will be costly and demolishing houses and buildings declared uninhabitable will also cost millions of dollars.

After days of waiting, the island got some good news about funding to begin the recovery process. President Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon approved a declaration of a major disaster in Puerto Rico.

The declaration provides federal funding for six municipalities on the southern coast.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced expressed gratitude. "We thank the @POTUS for his commitment helping relieve the suffering of our fellow citizens."

Alex Amparo, the top official in the region for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), describes the challenge Puerto Rico now faces in military terms.

"We're in a constant battle, I mean, we're in a fight right now. The ground is still shaking. I think you saw earlier we had a 5.2 and at the same time we have people who have lost homes," Amparo said.

While the full extent of the damage continues to be assessed, authorities have to take care of more pressing needs.

There are currently 30 shelters on Puerto Rico's southern coast, holding 8,023 people who were affected by the earthquakes.

Shelters in the cities of Yauco, Peñuelas, Guánica, Guayanilla and Ponce provide food, showers, air-conditioned rest areas, psychological counseling and medical services.

Some of those displaced are residents who are too afraid to return home for fear a wall or the roof will collapse.

But many others are families whose homes are now in ruins, people who are wondering whether they will receive housing assistance from the government or whether they will have to fend for themselves.

Luis Vélez told CNN that he and his extended family of more than 20 people, including a disabled uncle, have been living at a shelter opened by local authorities at Ponce Vocational School.

"We're going to stay here until the ground stops shaking," Vélez said. "We got back on our feet after Hurricane María and, with God's help, we will do the same after this series of earthquakes is over."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 513622

Reported Deaths: 10264
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34892556
DeSoto33234432
Hinds32638641
Jackson24854389
Rankin22507403
Lee16337242
Madison14922283
Jones14113247
Forrest13766259
Lauderdale12270324
Lowndes11305193
Lamar10659140
Pearl River9719244
Lafayette8846143
Hancock7836132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7210138
Monroe7010179
Pontotoc6990109
Warren6863178
Panola6759134
Neshoba6730210
Marshall6678141
Bolivar6445151
Union638297
Pike5928156
Alcorn5879107
Lincoln5530136
George510180
Prentiss503884
Tippah491482
Itawamba4844107
Scott477899
Adams4768125
Tate4756116
Leflore4729144
Copiah456495
Yazoo456491
Simpson4546117
Wayne443072
Covington433695
Sunflower4299106
Marion4277112
Coahoma4237109
Leake413990
Newton395781
Tishomingo383593
Grenada3777109
Stone365866
Jasper340666
Attala338290
Winston317892
Chickasaw315467
Clay312278
Clarke301195
Calhoun285049
Holmes271889
Smith269052
Yalobusha243947
Tallahatchie231553
Greene224749
Walthall221666
Lawrence218740
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster205348
Noxubee188742
Montgomery181657
Carroll174541
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152939
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134338
Humphreys131239
Franklin125529
Quitman107628
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65221
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845284

Reported Deaths: 16116
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161552006
Mobile742111380
Madison53307732
Shelby38338368
Baldwin38085589
Tuscaloosa36022641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25562263
Calhoun22586518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20018517
Marshall18782316
Houston17731425
St. Clair16884358
Limestone16148218
Cullman16054303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14989306
Talladega14196299
DeKalb12972269
Walker12030380
Blount10717192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10162194
Coffee9417192
Colbert9342208
Dale9020191
Tallapoosa7256201
Russell708165
Chilton7018170
Escambia6957143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5406130
Dallas5285209
Pike5119109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369580
Butler3435100
Marengo342493
Monroe337266
Randolph334867
Pickens333188
Fayette330385
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317863
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244864
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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High pressure will continue to control our weather forecast for the next several days. This will keep our area filled with plenty of sunshine. We will see both daytime highs and overnight lows gradually get milder and warmer.
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