Puerto Rico is reeling from devastating earthquakes: How you can help

Thousands are homeless and without power and water as aftershocks continue to shake the island.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
5 min read

A woman sits on a sofa in a camp set up at a baseball field in Guanica, Puerto Rico, on Saturday after a powerful earthquake hit the island. 

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

The new year is off to a grim start in Puerto Rico. A series of recent earthquakes there, including a 6.4 quake on Jan. 7 that's being called the strongest to shake the island in a century, has killed one person and left thousands homeless and without power and water. CBS News reports that more than 2,000 tremors have occurred since Dec. 28.

The current situation

David Begnaud, lead national correspondent for CBS This Morning, has been reporting from the quake-stricken island. (Editors' note: CBS and CNET are owned by ViacomCBS.) On Monday, he reported from the top of a mountain in hard-hit Guanica, speaking to people who feel unsafe returning to their homes and thus are sleeping outside as aftershocks continue. One family of 11 had no power or water and has been sleeping in their yard for nearly a week.

How to help

  • The nonprofit humanitarian organization Direct Relief is working to get medical care, mental health services and medicine such as insulin to Puerto Ricans. The Jan. 7 earthquake damaged three major hospitals, the group says on its site. The group has provided more than 500 evacuees with medical care, medication, mosquito nets, solar chargers and flashlights. Direct Relief has a donation page that asks donors whether to direct their contributions to the Puerto Rico effort or other crises such as the Australian bushfires, or simply use it where it's most needed.
  • Families long to return to their homes, but many buildings have been destroyed by the quakes. Puerto Rican community-education program Nuestra Escuela has set up a Global Giving fundraiser to help families eventually reconstruct their homes. "The possibility of returning a home to at least one family is, in the long term, the possibility of sowing hope, and building resilience in the affected communities," the group's fundraising site says.
  • The nonprofit Hispanic Federation has partnered with the University of Puerto Rico to offer mental health services to those affected by the earthquakes. The group will offer assessments, therapy and support, and plans to provide services at the university's three campuses, nine community organizations, and even in the homes of those who cannot reach the other locations. The group is also providing solar lamps and emergency funds for local health and human services providers. Donations can be designated either for mental health services or for general relief and recovery.
  • The American Red Cross reported Monday that about 170 of its disaster workers are in Puerto Rico, supporting government shelters, helping to care for the elderly and children, and going door to door checking on residents and delivering information and emergency supplies. Donations can be made at redcross.org, by calling 1-800-RED CROSS, or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, its site reports. The group's donation page does not specify Puerto Rican aid specifically, though donors can indicate they want their money to go toward disaster relief.
  • International Medical Corps, a global, nonprofit humanitarian aid organization, works to deliver emergency health care and services and to train people in affected communities. The group has responded to hard-hit areas in the southern part of the island— including Las Arenas, La Esperanza and Sabana Grande — to provide relief supplies, food, water, and psychological aid to those who've been displaced from their homes. The group has a dedicated page for Puerto Rico donations.
  • The nonprofit disaster relief and global health organization Americares has sent an emergency response team, including psychologists, a social worker and a counselor, to hard-hit Guanica. Americares' site says the group is also prepared to deliver medicine and relief supplies and support health services for survivors. The group has a donation page to help provide medicine and aid to Puerto Rico.
  • Acclaimed Spanish-American chef José Andrés is the founder of the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which responds to natural and human-made disasters worldwide, seeking to feed the hungry. The group has set up kitchens and food trucks in some of the hardest-hit areas and is accepting donations.

Presidential plea

As of Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump had yet to sign a major disaster declaration to release aid, CBS News reported. But Alex Amparo, the top official for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Puerto Rico, said the agency isn't waiting.

"We've got our teams out in the field," he told Begnaud. "The tremendous amount of mutual aid that's happening from the island, I'm sure you saw on your way here."

A FEMA representative told Begnaud over the phone on Monday that Trump's decision to sign the declaration was "still under consideration."

On Jan. 7, the president approved an initial emergency declaration, but that has a $5 million cap, whereas Puerto Rico needs much more. "Puerto Rico's governor estimates the earthquake damage is $110 million," Begnaud said in a tweet.

On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez sent a letter to the president urging him to act. Velázquez is the first Puerto Rican-born woman to serve in Congress, and Ocasio-Cortez also has Puerto Rican roots.

"The people of Puerto Rico have been battered by hurricanes and earthquakes," Sanders, who's also a presidential candidate, said in a tweet that included the letter. "They need humanitarian assistance now."

Neighbors helping neighbors

Puerto Ricans are still recovering from 2017's deadly Hurricane Maria, but residents are reaching out to help each other through yet another natural disaster.

"I have goosebumps watching people from various municipalities, driving in caravans down the highway that we're all taking to get to the southern part of the island, right now," Begnaud wrote on Saturday. "Neighbors helping neighbors is in full force here in Puerto Rico."

In the entertainment world

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who regularly spent a month with his grandparents in Puerto Rico during his childhood and who has worked with numerous charities in the US territory, has asked followers for their donations and prayers.

"There are a lot of places in the world that need your attention and prayers," Miranda said in a tweet on Jan. 7. "Please spare some for Puerto Rico today.'

Though it pales in comparison to other earthquake-related news, Deadline reported on Monday that the Disney Plus series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has suspended its planned two-week Puerto Rico shoot due to the earthquakes.

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