'The people of Puerto Rico are amazing'

COURTESY PHOTOJennifer Sanders of Derry stands with front desk associate Valeria Saldana in Puerto Rico this week following the recent earthquake. Sanders was in Puerto Rico with her mother, who was attending a conference. She was scheduled to fly home Friday.

A Derry woman and her mother found themselves caught in Puerto Rico earlier this week during the recent 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck the island, causing major damage and knocking out power.

Jennifer Sanders traveled to the island with her mother who was attending a conference. The women stayed at a Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino near San Juan.

"I tagged along to spend time in a warmer climate," Sanders said, adding they arrived on Jan. 4 and returned home Jan. 10.

Sanders, who works as a marketing coordinator out of Bangor Savings Bank's Portsmouth office, said the first 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Monday morning. She and her mother were staying on the 11th floor of the hotel and were getting ready to go out on an excursion, but felt the room start to sway.

"When it stopped, I called the front desk and asked if we should be doing anything and they said no, the island had been experiencing tremors for about a week," Sanders said. "I was worried but we went about our day."

Then the next day, around 4:30 a.m., the 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit, waking up Sanders and her mother from a deep sleep.

"We were immediately concerned, as it was stronger than the one we experienced the day before," Sanders said.

In addition to the room swaying, Sanders said this time there was also notable shaking. She went into the hallway after hearing voices and saw people gathering.

"One woman was from California and I asked her what we should do," Sanders said. "At that time, we felt an aftershock and she told me to stand in the doorway with her."

Afterwards, people went down to the hotel lobby, escorted by a hotel employee. Staff in the lobby passed out water and reassured guests the hotel was safe.

"Everyone was concerned and worried about continued aftershocks," Sanders said. "The hotel staff was worried about their families, and several people who have experienced earthquakes before were visibly upset."

Sanders said having no previous experience with earthquakes, she was also concerned and scared, saying you have no control in this type of situation.

Sanders said following the quake, the area where she was staying had little to no damage, but the southwestern side of the island sustained extensive damage. Aftershocks continued.

"One Uber driver told me he tried to get his family to stay with him but they didn't want to leave their home," Sanders said. "They are currently sleeping outside because they fear aftershocks will cause more damage to structures."

She said the island's people show a lot of strength.

"The people of Puerto Rico are amazing," Sanders said. "They are still recovering from Hurricane Maria and to experience an earthquake is devastating. Many homes are not built to withstand earthquakes here."

She said the hotel staff were a "bright spot" throughout the trip and experience, keeping everyone up-to-date on information, checking on guests and making sure everyone was safe.

"They are worried and concerned but are able to put that aside and make sure their guests are comfortable and calm," Sanders said.

Sanders said she was anxious to come home.

"We did try to look for flights to come home early, however we were unsuccessful," she said. "The airport in San Juan has been fully functional, running off generators and flights are departing and arriving on schedule or pretty close to that."

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