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Puerto Rican students deal with earthquake aftershocks

by Tatiana Torres

“I caught a glimpse of my mother’s fear-stricken eyes as the earth was shaking beneath us,” said Francisco Velázquez, a University of Tampa junior criminology major. “I remember being woken up abruptly and just holding onto my bed until I heard my family scream my name telling me to go with them. It was a scary experience for sure.”

It was Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 4:24 a.m. when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the island of Puerto Rico. After the earthquake, Governor Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.

Since late December, Puerto Rico has been experiencing a series of earthquakes, including the one on Jan. 7 that left one person dead, many homeless and more than two-thirds of the population without water and power. That was the strongest earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in 102 years, according to the National Post.

These series of quakes have further damaged the infrastructure that was already affected by category five, Hurricane Maria which hit the island in September of 2017.

UT Puerto Rican students, many of whom were home and experienced these disasters over winter break, said they are still living with fear and uncertainty thinking about what the future holds for the island. According to the UT Office of International Programs, 67 UT students are from Puerto Rico.

“Sometimes I am just sitting in class and I feel it shaking,” said Daniela Jimenez, freshman communications major. “There’s that brief moment of panic, but I quickly remind myself that I am not in Puerto Rico and it is all in my head. I know that if I was back home, I would be constantly worried wondering when the next big earthquake was going to hit.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Marca Bear, associate dean of international programs at UT sent out an email, which Stephanie Russell Krebs, vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students, echoed. The email expressed concern to the Puerto Rican students and included where students could reach spiritual support and counseling services, which are available at the Dickey Health and Wellness Center on-campus. 

Many students reflect on the unsettling and stressful fact that earthquakes are completely unpredictable.

Andrea Mesqueue, sophomore international business and marketing major, said, “I felt the one on Jan. 7 and it was horrible. I was aware that there were smaller magnitude earthquakes rattling the island, but I did not expect one with that magnitude. Who does?” she said. “In school, you are taught that you should drop, cover and hold during earthquakes. However, when confronted with an experience like this, nerves tend to overpower thoughts.”

Some students find that being away from home during a time like this is making it harder for them to focus on their academic responsibilities.

When she came back to UT, Mesqueue said, “I had downloaded an app that notifies you every time there was an earthquake, but I had to delete it because I would be constantly checking it and I would not focus on my schoolwork.”

While Maredh Lopez Ocasio, junior biology major, said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m going through this alone even though I may be surrounded by people because not a lot of people seem to know that Puerto Rico is still shaking. Everything I love is there and the fact that I could have lost it or still lose it stresses me out. I feel incomplete not being there. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on anything other than what is going on back home, but I keep close tabs on the earthquake app, so I’ll know if anything happens, that gives me peace of mind and helps me focus on school.”

Tatiana Torres can be reached at tatiana.torres@spartans.ut.edu

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