Empathy and assertive action, at both family and government levels, are the right formula for our people to recover from the suffering and material damage triggered by the series of high magnitude earthquakes that rattled Puerto Rico for the first time in more than 100 years.
Solidarity must be at the forefront of efforts in the face of the sense of uncertainty that has invaded many citizens, especially residents in the southern area of the island, who have been directly affected by the January 7 earthquake. This strong will is also a prerequisite for embarking on an organized recovery effort, one that gives government authorities reasonable space to assess the extent of the damage and carry out repairs, ensuring workers´ safety.
We should all commit to helping with the material and emotional recovery of the affected families, as well as with the reconstruction of the infrastructure damaged by the earthquake. And we have a special individual and collective responsibility to move away from noises surrounding the necessary processes to get the power grid back on its feet. This is a vital step for Puerto Rico to return to its normal domestic, social and economic life.
According to the Electric Power Authority, 100 percent of the customers will have power in the next few days, while anticipating some may experience intermittent service for a few weeks. Just days after the earthquake, about half of the customers have electricity.
A 6.4 earthquake and the conditions of generation plants were expected to complicate the efforts to restore service immediately. Since these are localized problems, not massive as was the case when the power grid completely collapsed when Hurricane María struck the island in 2017, it is also expected that fully recovering the service will be a faster process.
However, our recent experience with such a striking force of nature confirms the urgency for Puerto Rico to prioritize the construction of an energy system that responds to current and future social, economic and environmental challenges. The island needs to adopt the most modern energy trends towards cost-effective and cleaner sources, in partnership with the private sector, as provided for in the new energy policy.
On the other hand, the government also needs space to confirm, with scientific precision, that students, teachers and other staff will have safe schools before resuming classes. The earthquake has proved that it is necessary to periodically inspect buildings to ensure they can withstand potential events.
Residents of the Southwestern area, in particular, need calm. Hundreds of families have been sleeping in shelters, parks and parking lots, some because their homes were affected; others, fearing they would be caught up in another event. They should receive supplies and comfort as well as long-term solutions. The government is already coordinating with municipalities to provide professional care and support. Those whose homes have collapsed, have structural failures or are on unstable ground must be offered a safe roof.
While the government does its part, citizens can contribute with donations or volunteer work through non-profits that also bring help and comfort to these families. Fortunately, Tuesday's quake did not affect the entire island as strongly as it did the southwestern area. Those who are better are also called upon to bring calm and sanity in order to help with a swift and responsible recovery process for the affected families.
We began this year with a series of events that represent a new opportunity to recognize our weaknesses and strengths, in light of the devastating 2017 hurricanes and the recent earthquakes. They call us to reflect on what Puerto Rico needs to transform.
When a crisis divides a country, its weaknesses grow. Rather than blaming uncontrollable events of nature, we should, as individuals and as a society, reflect on how we can contribute to change those conditions that have made us more vulnerable.