A 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico before dawn on Monday 07 JAN affecting a large swath of service connected U.S. citizens and prompting Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez to declare a state of emergency. The Puerto Rico National Guard was also activated on Tuesday after a series of earthquakes including one registering a magnitude 6.4 was recorded — the most powerful earthquake to strike the Caribbean island in 102 years.
The spate of earthquakes were responsible for the tragic death of at least one person. The earthquakes also caused power outages and blackouts across the entire island. Approximately 300,000 Puerto Rican residents were without drinking water as well, Governor Vazquez reported at a news briefing.
At least 346 people were left homeless as a result of the earthquakes, officials said. Many homes were completely flattened, with Southern portions of the island absorbing the majority of the damage.
The emergency declaration allows for the facilitation of needed federal financial aid for the U.S. territory. Governor Vazquez stated that she had been in communication with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Two U.S. senators from Florida, as well as Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the House of Representatives stressed the dire need for expedited emergency federal aid to President Donald Trump.
President Trump and his administration have been briefed on the earthquakes and key officials have been copiously monitoring the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico, and coordinating with Puerto Rico officials, White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.
The island has been hit by a hundreds of earthquakes since Dec. 28, including at least 10 of which have registered a magnitude of 4 or greater, according to statistical figures provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Puerto Rico is still recovering from a pair of devastating hurricanes that hit the island in 2017 and resulted in the deaths of about 3,000 people and destroyed a significant amount of infrastructure.
Puerto Rico is also currently in the process of working through a bankruptcy process aimed at restructuring approximately $120 billion of its municipal debt and pension obligations.
Aside from U.S. Coast Guard operational assets and Puerto Rico National Guard facilities, there are only two remaining military installations in Puerto Rico — the U.S. Army’s small Ft. Buchanan, which supports local reserve units as well as local veterans, and the Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG) Muñiz Air Base, which maintains a robust C-130 Fleet.
The size of the overall military-related community in Puerto Rico is estimated to be approximately 100,000 individuals, including retired personnel. Fort Buchanan alone contains roughly 4,000 military and civilian personnel.
The Puerto Rico Army National Guard and Air National Guard are comprised of approximately 17,000 members in total.
Puerto Rican American soldiers have served with distinction in every US military conflict from Word War I to the current military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other areas areas around the world.
A branch of the U.S. Army National Guard is stationed in Puerto Rico —known as the Puerto Rico National Guard, which performs missions equivalent to those of the various other U.S. Army National Guards of the different U.S. states and the District of Columbia. These missions include ground defense, disaster relief, and control of civil unrest. The local National Guard also incorporates a branch of the U.S. Air National Guard—known as the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, which performs wide-ranging missions equivalent to those of the Air National Guards of the U.S. states.
A number of Puerto Rican colleges and universities Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Army ROTC programs are offered at the American University of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean University, the University of Puerto Rico – Arecibo, the University of Puerto Rico – Bayamon Technological University College, the University of Puerto Rico – Carolina Regional College, the University of Puerto Rico – Cayey, the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, and the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras Air Force ROTC programs are offered at the University of Puerto Rico – Bayamon Technological University College, the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, and the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras.
The U.S. military has sought to form alliances with Hispanic organizations to promote military recruitment. In January 1999, leaders of National Hispanic organizations in collaboration with the U.S. Army held the Hispanic Leadership Summit ’99. The “Education and Career Opportunities for Hispanic Youth in America’s Army” summit included the participation of leaders of the US Army as well as leaders of national Hispanic organizations including ASPIRA, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. At the summit, the director of the LULAC National Educational Service Center (LNESC), Richard Royball commented, “Based on our mutually beneficial partnership, we would encourage other Hispanic organizations to ally themselves with the US Army.” LNESC promotes military recruitment in educational service centers in several US cities and in Puerto Rico.
Responsibility for the air defense of Puerto Rico rests primarily with U.S. Air Force aerial assets or U.S. Navy fighters that would be flown-in case of a military emergency.
In recent years, U.S. Federal government policymakers have considered further deactivations of military operational assets in Puerto Rico, but have faced strenuous opposition by diverse public and private entities in Puerto Rico – such as retired military who rely on Ft. Buchanan for the services available there.
The coastal defense of Puerto Rico is the responsibility of the United States Navy from its tactical fleet at sea, as well as the (aptly named) United States Coast Guard. The USCG maintains a significant presence in Puerto Rico at its “Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen,” located on the former Ramsey AFB. The U.S. Coast Guard deploys HH-65C helicopters to operate out of Borinquen in the conduct of tactical search-and-rescue missions as well as law-enforcement (drug interdiction) missions. Coast Guard fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft, stationed primarily in Florida frequently fly to and from Puerto Rico in support of such missions. Additionally, USCG cutters visit Puerto Rican waters periodically in conduct of various coastal patrol and search-and-rescue missions.
US Navy vessels also frequently visit Puerto Rican waters on an as-required basis. On “La Puntilla,” the Coast Guard maintains a small operational base capable of supporting a surface fleet of several 110-foot (34 m) long cutters and other patrol boats. These boats and cutters work closely with the air station responding to support emerging operational mission requirements.