Governor Wánda Vázquez. (GFR Media)

Following yesterday's 5.9 magnitude earthquake and an initial estimate of $110 million in damage to 539 structures, Governor WandaVázquez Garced signed a request for a major disaster declaration that requires the approval of the U.S. President Donald Trump.

She also announced that each of the affected municipalities - Guánica, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, Utuado, and Yauco - will immediately receive $2 million, effective yesterday. And a $12 million disbursement to cover immediate needs, such as renting generators and tents. They are part of a $260 million package authorized by the Oversight Board to address the emergency until January 31."

Vázquez Garced left the door open to using part of this emergency fund to advance direct aid to the hundreds of people who have been sleeping outdoors or in tents for almost a week. "It is something we are already evaluating... Without a doubt," said the governor.

Meanwhile, she urged people who feel unsafe in their homes or whose homes already reflect some damage to call their municipality's Emergency Management Offices to coordinate evacuation to shelters.

When asked if she is evaluating shelter options outside the area where earthquakes have concentrated, Vázquez Garced said they are discussing this scenario with the National Guard, but that they do not see it may be necessary yet.

Preliminary request

Regarding the request for a major disaster declaration, Vázquez Garced stressed that once Trump signs it, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be able to extend assistance to more municipalities. So far, the individual assistance request includes those municipalities that have received the $2 million disbursement from the state. And the public assistance request will preliminarily cover Ponce, Guánica, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, and San Germán.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and a group of federal lawmakers sent a bipartisan letter to President Trump asking him to sign a major disaster declaration in Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO, Spanish acronym) issued a price freeze order yesterday, five days after the entire island experienced a power outage following Tuesday's 6.4 magnitude earthquake. As for the delay, the governor acknowledged that the order to freeze prices responded to the fact that "there are people here who are increasing the prices of tents and booths, which are going to be a roof for Puerto Ricans because they don't have a house. The order also covers cisterns, generators and related parts, emergency, and basic supplies.

On the other hand, and citing safety concerns, the governor asked San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz to reconsider the San Sebastián Street Festival, scheduled to begin Wednesday. She recommended that the Festival be postponed. “My priority is the safety of the people of Puerto Rico," she said.

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