President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter, after a deadly earthquake struck the commonwealth that was already struggling to recover from other natural disasters.
The aid allows the U.S. government to provide immediate assistance, including restoring lost power, the person said on Tuesday night.
Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Florida Republicans, along with Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Congress, had urged Trump in a letter earlier Tuesday to approve the commonwealth’s request for disaster aid.
The total economic impact, including disruption from damage and power failures, could reach $3.1 billion, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.
Tuesday’s 6.4-magnitude earthquake caused a major blackout. It killed at least one person and injured several others, El Nuevo Dia reported.
Governor Wanda Vazquez signed an emergency declaration to give the government the fiscal flexibility to respond quickly to the earthquake, the governor said during a Tuesday news conference in Caguas, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of San Juan. In a tweet Tuesday morning, Vazquez said she suspended work of non-emergency government employees.
The bankrupt commonwealth has been plagued by natural disasters in recent years. Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in 2017 just two weeks after Hurricane Irma caused damage to the island. Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and killed thousands of residents.
Trump clashed with Puerto Rican leaders after Maria had battered the island.
When he visited San Juan after the devastation, he famously threw rolls of paper towels into a crowd gathered at a church. He also attacked the city’s mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, for criticizing the government’s response, dismissing her “poor leadership ability” and calling his critics “ingrates.