Seventh-day Adventist leaders in Puerto Rico are still struggling to come to terms with a series of earthquakes that began on January 6, 2020, and culminated with a 6.4 magnitude tremor early on January 7. The earthquakes have hit the southern parts of the island the hardest, mainly in Guayanilla and Guánica, killing one person and injuring a dozen others, and causing power outages. No deaths have been reported among church members.
“We have never as a country dealt with such an earthquake in all my years,” said José A. Rodríguez, president of the church in Puerto Rico.
“At 4:24 a.m., I woke up to the house shaking, and then one aftershock then another. Sometimes it’s like ten tremors a day, so there’s so much uncertainty for all of us here in Puerto Rico,” said Rodríguez, who lives in the western part of the island. Even though the earthquakes have been strongest in the south, the entire island has felt each tremor, he added.
“There is so much uncertainty now, bridges are down, roads have collapsed, power hasn’t been restored, and many are taking refuge in parks and arenas,” Rodríguez said.
So far, six members’ homes have been destroyed, and local church leaders at the South Puerto Rico Conference are gathering information on the emergency needs of the members.
Classes at the three Adventist schools in the South Puerto Rico Conference have been suspended until at least January 13, pending an assessment by engineers. Classes will not resume until those school facilities are declared safe to occupy, Rodriguez said. No significant damage to churches or Adventist school facilities in other parts of the island has been reported.
Early on January 7, church leaders met with structural engineers to assess the third and fourth floors of the Adventist-run Bella Vista Hospital in Mayagüez. Engineers did not find any structural damage. Patients had to be evacuated briefly due to the power outage on those two floors, while the generators for those floors were stabilized.
Luis Rivera, treasurer for the church in Puerto Rico and chairman of the Bella Vista Hospital Board of Directors, said, “The hospital is operating within the limitations of the situation and running with the generators they have in place.”
Antillean Adventist University in Mayagüez also did not suffer damage.
Rodríguez and a team of leaders had planned to drive to Guayanilla in the south on January 8 to visit the affected members and assess the needs, so they can proceed to assist them and those in the community.
“It seems like we are still trying to fully recover from Hurricane Maria, and now this, but we are thankful for God’s protection and ask our brothers and sisters around the world to pray for us,” Rodríguez said.
Many leaders from across the church in the Inter-American Division (IAD) region have called Rodríguez with words of encouragement and prayers.
Rodríguez was to visit several radio stations later in the day to encourage the general public to stay calm and trust in God.
Church leaders continue to assess the needs across the most affected regions and plan ways to assist in the coming days and weeks.