A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico early Tuesday, killing at least one person and causing an island-wide power outage as well as structural damage to roads and bridges, especially in the southwestern part of the island.
There have been at least 24 aftershocks since the earthquake, the largest in a series of quakes, hit at 4:24 am. Federal agencies monitoring the activity say the tremors and quakes could continue for the next few days, according to Governor Wanda Vázquez.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, Vázquez announced the island is in an official state of emergency.
“We’ve never been exposed to this kind of emergency in 102 years,” she said in Spanish.
Government offices and schools were closed, as well as some hospitals in the island’s southwestern region. Residents, especially in the south, have been terrified to go into their homes for fear that another quake will bring them down.
Vázquez urged citizens to stay calm and asked public employees to stay home while authorities assess the damages. First responders, the governor said, were reporting to their usual areas. Authorities urged residents to stay home unless they thought their residences had structural damage.
“Citizen security is a priority, so vulnerable areas are being inspected and all necessary measures will be taken to ensure the safety of all Puerto Ricans,” Vásquez said.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., tweeted that he had been in contact with President Donald Trump and with FEMA about the situation in Puerto Rico.
Gov. Vázquez said that she has not received any communications from Trump as of 11 a.m.
“People don’t feel safe”
In the southern city of Ponce, a man died after an inner wall that was under construction in his house collapsed during the quake. The victim was identified as Nelson Martínez, 73. Ray González, his nephew, told Telemundo he was woken up by “the big noise” of the wall collapsing.
Ponce, one of the island’s largest cities, has no power, intermittent access to water and is grappling with landslides affecting its main highway.
María “Mayita” Meléndez, the mayor of Ponce, told NBC News that at least nine other people in her city were injured.
Residents scared to go back into their homes are seeking refugee inside their cars, parked in open areas and public parking lots, said Meléndez.
“People don’t feel safe,” she added. “We are living moments of uncertainty.”
Meléndez said her municipality is preparing open areas and parks with tents for people looking for refugee, away from structures that could collapse. According to her, five hospitals in the area are functional.
Albert Rodríguez, who is from the southwest town of Guánica, said tsunami sirens went off before officials canceled the alert. He said there is widespread damage in his neighborhood.
“The road is cracked in the middle and it lifted up,” he said.
Part of the widespread destruction in Rodríguez’s town includes a public school near the earthquake’s epicenter.
The school Agripina Seda collapsed completely because of the widespread quakes. César González of the Puerto Rico Department of Education told Telemundo that the school is the one “the biggest damages” he’s seen so far. Other schools in the area have reported less damage.
González added that the roughly 200 students that attend the school will most likely have to be relocated to other schools.
Vázquez said students won’t be going back to school until Monday because the government will inspect all schools this week.
Puerto Rico’s housing secretary, Fernando Gil Enseñat, said during the press conference that nearly 400 people are housed in shelters in at least five municipalities. Over 200 sought shelter in Guánica, 40 in Ponce, 56 in the town of San Germán and 35 in Guayanilla.
The governor said that the power is slowly being restored. The island’s main hospital Centro Médico now has electricity, according to Vázquez. About 300,000 customers who get their water supply through electrical water pumps don’t have access to water in their homes. José Ortiz, the head of the island’s power authority said at the governor’s press conference, “it’s not going to be like Maria,” referring to the hurricane that resulted in power outages for over one year.
Tuesday’s earthquake follows the 5.8-magnitude one that struck early Monday morning, collapsing five homes in Guánica and heavily damaging dozens of others.
Puerto Rico’s residents have been feeling tremors since Dec. 28., and the last two earthquakes have set islanders on edge as they grapple with the uncertainty of what comes next.
Victor Huerfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, told The Associated Press that shallow quakes were occurring along three faults in Puerto Rico’s southwest region: Lajas Valley, Montalva Point and the Guayanilla Canyon.
He said the quakes overall come as the North American plate and the Caribbean plate squeeze Puerto Rico.
One of the island’s most iconic landmarks, the Guánica lighthouse, built by the Spanish in 1892, suffered damage after the earthquake. Although the lighthouse’s tower survived, one of its front walls collapsed.
The shake also collapsed a coastal rock formation that had formed a sort of rounded window, Punta Ventana, that was a popular tourist draw in the southwest town of Guayanilla.
“Playa Ventana collapsed. Today our icon remains in our memory,” Guayanilla’s press officer, Glidden López, wrote on his Facebook page on Monday.
The earthquakes’ damages come just a few months after the American Society of Civil Engineers issued an almost failing grade to Puerto Rico’s roads, ports, energy grid and other infrastructure.The island received a D-minus in the November report, which cited the island’s continued struggle to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the need for more resources.
“Every single one of you know how your homes were built. Don’t put yourselves at risk. Your homes can be replaced but we can’t replace your or your children’s lives,” said Vázquez.
Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017, killed almost 3,000 people. Most of the island’s infrastructure is in “poor condition” and is exhibiting “significant deterioration,” according to the report.
On Tuesday, the island’s secretary of education told Radio Isla that around 95 percent of public schools in Puerto Rico don’t comply with updated construction codes.