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Leadership Corner

Aiding the people of Puerto Rico in their time of need

Portrait of Chief Christiansen in uniform.
Chief Vicki Christiansen

Many of you may be curious about how our colleagues and families in Puerto Rico are feeling during the earthquakes and aftershocks affecting the island. We are fortunate that, so far, there has been limited direct impact to those working for the International Institute of Tropical Forestry and El Yunque National Forest. However, our colleagues, their families and the communities they serve are feeling anxiety and uncertainty as they navigate the impacts and disruptions to normal life.

While the physical aftermath has been limited, the emotional effect is much greater. An earthquake is unpredictable, can occur at any time and can leave you feeling helpless. Many of our employees and partners are affected, whether they live in Puerto Rico or have family on the island, and the level of anxiety continues to be very high. The effects are made worse since much of the island is still recovering from the 2017 hurricanes.

Although the land we are responsible for does not fall along the southern portion of the island where the earthquakes are concentrated, we have interdependent relationships with the people and communities on the island, and the damage affects some of us personally. One of Puerto Rico’s major power plants, which supplies about 40 percent of the island’s electricity, was seriously damaged. Over 900 structures have been destroyed so far, and many people are living in tents—either due to concerns about structural integrity or because their homes have collapsed.

Iconic natural wonders have been devastated as well: Punta Ventana collapsed in a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, and the Dry Forest Visitor Center and the ruins of the former Civil Conservation Corps camp in the municipality of Guánica were impacted. Similarly, the “Cueva de Cal,” a major tourist attraction, collapsed in the aftermath of the Jan. 7 earthquake. 

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