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World

The Latest From Puerto Rico Following A Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

People along Puerto Rico's southern coast were shaken awake this morning by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake. It was the strongest one yet after 10 days of quakes. At least one person has died. The governor has announced a state of emergency and activated the national guard to help with recovery. Danica Coto is a reporter with The Associated Press and joins us from the southern city of Guanica.

Welcome.

DANICA COTO: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Would you just begin by describing the damage that you've seen today?

COTO: There's a couple hundreds of homes that have collapsed, a lot of businesses damaged. There was a church from the 19th century that partially collapsed, and it looks like it's been disemboweled. And it's either hit or miss. A lot of the damage was reported in the towns of Guanica, Guayanilla, Lajas, Yauco and surrounding areas. Some buildings that were not that much damaged are still not safe to be in as firefighters and other crews are inspecting homes and businesses.

SHAPIRO: I understand there are widespread power outages. What are people telling you they need most urgently right now?

COTO: A lot of people are seeking gas, food and water. Some people say this is reminiscent of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017...

SHAPIRO: Right.

COTO: ...As a very strong Category 4 storm. And there's long lines at some gas stations. Some people are driving around town slowly lowering their windows, calling out to people walking on the street, asking them if they know whether people are selling food or water, but these are in very limited communities. In the rest of Puerto Rico, there's enough gas and power and water, and officials say that the situation is nothing like that catastrophic storm.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us about the psychological impact that this is having on survivors of that terrible storm, Maria, who are now going through these earthquakes?

COTO: People are greatly affected emotionally. I spoke to one man who said he was petrified of earthquakes. He plans to set up his hammock outside. There's very few people that I spoke with today that say that they plan on spending their night inside their homes even if their homes are intact. You know, the ground has continued to shake all day. We've felt dozens of earthquakes since the big one at 4:30 this morning. There's people who have lost businesses.

There was one woman who was trying to recover the goods at the hardware store she owns, despite warnings from firefighters saying that she should not enter the building, that it's not safe. And she said, honestly, right now, I haven't reacted yet. I'm still in shock. I don't know how I'm going to absorb all of this. And that was the sentiment of many people. You could see people hurriedly stuffing pillows into their cars, packing clothes in plastic bags. And this last big earthquake, they feel, was not the final one. Many are petrified that more are to come, and so they're just simply leaving the town. And right now, the usually busy town on Guanica and others, you know, are practically ghost town.

SHAPIRO: In addition to the damaged buildings and the human struggle, I understand that a beloved natural rock formation that was a popular tourist destination has collapsed. Will you tell us about that?

COTO: Indeed. The landmark is known as Punta Ventana, and it was a popular site where people would take pictures. And it was this wonderful structure that appeared like a rounded window, and the arch of that collapsed. The people who own the land where it's located, they told me that part of the structure collapsed slightly with the first earthquake that occurred on Monday morning and that the rest of it collapsed shortly afterward.

SHAPIRO: That's Danica Coto speaking with us from southern Puerto Rico. She is with The Associated Press.

Thank you.

COTO: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.