I’m Ariane Datil. Yo soy Boricua.
I was born in Philadelphia and work in D.C., but my family is from Puerto Rico. I have aunts, uncles and cousins still living there. They all live in the northeast corner of the island -- an area that faced little-to-no damage after the quake. Thankfully they were safe -- their homes secure.
Feeling safe is not a reality for thousands of Puerto Ricans who live on the opposite corner of the island. Near Guanica, Guayanilla, Yauco and Ponce, thousands of small earthquakes have been shaking the area since Dec. 28.
The quakes and aftershocks damaged more than 800 homes and businesses, displacing more than 8,000 people.
"What happened in Guanica is a tragedy," a woman, named Ruth, told me. "So many families lost their homes. The hardest thing to see is people sleeping in the street, sleeping in parks (children and senior citizens). That is what is hardest to see."
I’ve covered stories about Puerto Rico as much as I could from Washington -- watching protesters gather in front of the Department of Housing and Urban Development for funding still owed from Hurricane Maria, Skyping with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen organization to see how food was being distributed to displaced families, even attending local fundraisers aimed at sending resources directly to people in Guanica at ground zero.
While those stories helped show people on the mainland a small slice of the aftermath of the earthquakes, I knew that in order to truly see what my boricuas were doing, I needed to go there myself.
Con mis propio ojos -- With my own eyes.
My plane landed in San Juan around 5 a.m. on Jan. 18.
It was a very humid morning. Normally when I go to Puerto Rico, I’m going to see family, so I’ll have on vacation clothes and flip flops, but not today. I was wearing the same outfit I wore to work the day before: A light pink, cheetah print dress shirt and slacks. I was already sweating.
By the time I made it to my rental car, the sun was just starting to rise.
As I drove toward Yauco in the southwest corner of the island, I saw dozens of cars packed with pillows and supplies lined up along the side of the highway, as though people had stuffed them to the brim with everything they could find.
I knew people were staying in cars and tents in front of their homes because they were too afraid to be inside, but was that fear so intense that they now only felt safe sleeping in their cars on the side of the highway?
I slowed the car to a crawl, pulling over on a dirt road to find out.
What I actually saw were dozens and dozens of church groups from other parts of the island. They came in caravans stocked with supplies to help their hermanos in the south.
Their cars were packed full of supplies, including socks, underwear, sheets, food, diapers, etc. Some of the items were gathered from their neighborhood. Others were given to them after Hurricane Maria -- and kept in preparation for the next hurricane season.
They didn’t see this coming.
A report by the U.S. Geological Survey shows people in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico may feel shaking from magnitude 3.0 aftershocks on a daily basis for the next two to six months.
Before going to Puerto Rico for this trip, I had never experienced an earthquake. During dinner on the first night, that all changed.
I picked this beach-shack-style restaurant because it had a fabulous patio with draped lights and a great view of the ocean. About three-quarters of the way through my mamposteao y mofongo con camarones, the structure started shaking, swaying from side-to-side. I looked down to the lower deck to see if anyone else felt the tremors. Claro que si.
Everything seemed to stop for a second, perhaps 5 seconds -- that’s how long the shaking lasted. But those seconds felt like lifetimes to me. I didn’t move. I probably should have gone downstairs immediately, but I just sat there. Shocked. In the blink of an eye, everyone was back to what they were doing before the quake.
Experience the earthquake aftershock in the video below:
A few minutes later, a waiter came upstairs to me, seemingly unfazed, holding a pitcher of water. As he filled up my glass, he told me that yes, he felt it. He'd felt about six earthquakes every night for the last week or so. At night, he said, was when they really picked up.
Because I was moving around so much, I didn't always feel the tremors like I did at dinner that night. But every day after that I felt at least one tremor ranging from a magnitude 2.0 to a 4.8.
While the frequency of aftershocks is expected to decline, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that Puerto Rico may experience tremors from that one earthquake on a weekly basis for the next decade.
For Puerto Ricans, these constant quakes are now reality -- one that is taking a toll of people’s peace of mind.
But what happens after the shocks are over? What type of impact do these earthquakes have on not just physical properties, but also boricuas' – Puerto Ricans' – mental health?