Providing Relief in the Wake of Puerto Rico's M6.4 Earthquake

Vonmarie Martinez-Chaluisant, PE, volunteers to help Puerto Rico recover from earthquake damage.

Vonmarie Martinez-Chaluisant, Senior Engineer in our St. Louis office, recently traveled to Puerto Rico to join a group of volunteer engineers with the goal of providing free building inspections after the M6.4 earthquake hit Puerto Rico on January 7, 2020.  With the mission to provide structural inspections to people whose structures have suffered damage after the earthquakes, the group has received over 8,000 requests for inspections across the island and the results are being used to distribute housing assistance. Of those 8,000 requests, almost 40% are a priority, either because the house is at risk of collapsing, the residents are bedridden, or because they are sleeping outside for fear of an unsafe roof.  Around 30 have been listed as UNSAFE (10%) and around 80 have been listed as RESTRICTED USE (30%).

Coordinating with City Mayors and the local Emergency Management Agency, the volunteer group has provided reports identifying which buildings have been inspected and the results of those inspections.  The volunteer’s work over the last three weeks has provided relief to people that were afraid of entering their houses, sleeping outside and camping in tents, even if those houses did not suffer damage. 

In one instance, an inspection was conducted in a community located at the top of a mountain.  The volunteers identified that the soil was unstable due to surface cracking, lateral spreading and sliding.  That community received a notice of evacuation and the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) was notified as there was a water tank in the area.  Upon inspection, PRASA found the water tank structure was compromised and demolished the tank before the structure could collapse.  

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