Chicago-area residents on vacation feel Puerto Rico earthquake, families reach out to relatives on island

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Chicago area residents vacationing in Puerto Rico experience earthquake
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The Puerto Rico earthquake Tuesday morning destroyed buildings, shut off electricity and left at least one person dead.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- People from the Chicago area vacationing in Puerto Rico were awoken early Tuesday morning by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked the island.

Gisela Sabal, from southwest suburban Frankfort, has a home on the east side of the island, many miles away from the epicenter, but still felt tremors Tuesday morning.

"My bed was shaking so I sprung out and checked on my kids and ran around the house to make sure there was no damage," Sabal said. "The whole island doesn't have electricity on the west side of the island where it happened, so there's a lot of damage."

RELATED: Puerto Rico earthquake: 6.4-magnitude temblor rocks US territory amid heavy seismic activity

Alicia Hadad was visiting Puerto Rico from Chicago. She woke in the early morning to chaos.

"All the electricity, all the lights, all the traffic lights went off," she said. "And traffic was really kind of very scary."

Paula Biagini embraced her mother tightly as she returned home to Chicago from Puerto Rico Tuesday night.

"They have no lights, no lights at all," Ana Hilda Morales said. "The power is off."

"This morning the magnitude of the earthquake shake the bed," said Jose Echevarria, who returned from Puerto Rico Tuesday night. "So it was kind of scary, you know."

"Thank God we got out of there early, so we're happy to be home," he added.

It's been more than 100 years since the last serious earthquake hit Puerto Rico. Tuesday's quake came one day after another 5.8 magnitude earthquake that damaged many more buildings, caused rock slides and left one person dead.

Melissa Lewis, who lives in Chicago, was able to speak to her aunt, who lives near the epicenter of the quake. She took several pictures of damaged homes. Shortly after the earthquake she also received a tsunami warning.

"They evacuated her and her kids and her mother, and her mother refuses to leave the island," Lewis said.

Kathy Tossas lives in Humboldt Park and has been communicating with her family all morning. They live in a neighborhood on the southern part of the island.

"My family had to be evacuated and then move to Juana Dias which is a bit more inland because the threat of the tsunami so I've been on pins and needles," Tossas said. "I just got off the phone with my dad. I don't want to get too emotional but a little scary."

The Puerto Rican community in Chicago is keeping close tabs on the situation on the island. The Puerto Rican Agenda raised several hundred thousand dollars for hurricane relief after Hurricane Maria, and stand ready to help again.

"We're waiting on some very clear answers for what the need is," said Jessie Fuentes, Puerto Rican Agenda.

Lewis would like her relatives to leave Puerto Rico and come to Chicago to escape the harsh conditions on the island, but she's gotten nowhere with that discussion.

"It's hard, because for me it's easy to be like, 'Just leave, just leave, come here where you're safe,' but I have to consider my aunt has spent her whole life there," she said.

"I feel concerned but there's nothing we can do about it this is gonna keep on happening," said Daisy Lebron, who has family ties to the island.

The powerful earthquake off Puerto Rico's southwestern coast also triggered a widespread blackout and was followed by intense aftershocks.

Puerto Rico's governor has declared a state of emergency and has activated the National Guard.

Officials said they are unable to say how soon electricity will be restored for the whole island, but a large percentage should be back on Tuesday evening. Right now more than 300 people are staying in shelters, and more than 300,000 customers are without water.