The Trump administration declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico after powerful earthquakes shook the island on Jan. 7, according to a press release by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Among the services the federal government will be able to provide is dispatching medical teams from the National Disaster Medical System and the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, who will also be able to provide equipment and supplies.
“Across HHS, we have worked closely with the territory’s health and human services authorities on disaster recovery, and will continue to do everything we can to help ensure the health and well-being of people across the island,” Alex Azar, the head of the HHS, said in a statement.
Wanda Vázquez, Puerto Rico’s governor, also declared a state of emergency for the island.
“We've never been exposed to this kind of emergency in 102 years,” she said.
A 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico early in the morning of Jan. 7, followed by two 5.6 magnitude earthquakes later that morning. For the past several weeks, meanwhile, hundreds of smaller earthquakes have been hitting the island, according to the US Geological Survey.
The Jan. 7 earthquakes killed at least one person and caused a power outage across the island as well as damage to roads and bridges, according to NBC News. Only about 33% of the island has had power restored, and schools have not yet been reopened, according to CNN.
The federal government is working alongside Puerto Rico’s authorities to restore the island’s infrastructure.
However, Puerto Rico is still waiting for more than $18 billion in federal funding for hurricane relief after Hurricane Maria in 2017, according to the Washington Post.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, and nearly two years after the hurricane hit, the island is still struggling to recover.
Hurricane Maria is estimated to have killed as many as 2,795 people, and the aftermath forced many of the island’s hospitals to close or operate without power, and left over half of the population without clean drinking water.
These natural disasters have hit Puerto Rico as it has been burdened with a massive debt crisis.
Without adequate funding, it can be difficult for communities to gain access to quality health care, which can not only increase the last-lasting negative impacts of natural disasters, but further a cycle of poverty overall.