PUERTO RICO — Puerto Rico residents spent the night outside as aftershocks rocked the region following a magnitude 6.4 earthquake that knocked out power and water services in some areas.
The quake is the strongest and likely the most damaging of hundreds of temblors that have struck the island since December 28. It hit during the predawn hours Tuesday, leaving a man dead and causing dozens of homes and structures to crumble.
It was centered just off Puerto Rico’s southern coast, six miles south of Indios. Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency and activated the Puerto Rico National Guard as she pleaded with people to remain calm and prepare for aftershocks.
Terrified of sleeping indoors as aftershocks rattled a region on edge, neighbors put mattresses in their front yards while others spent the night Tuesday under white tents and tarps.
Riko Gonzalez and his parents were sleeping in their home in Yauco, near Indios, when the quake struck. They scurried out of the house as dishes tumbled to the kitchen floor, he said.
Hundreds of aftershocks have hit the area in the past few days. “People are afraid to go to bed, to then be woken up to worse earthquakes than the day before,” Gonzalez said.
Water and power still an issue
The towns affected by earthquakes are Guanica, Guayanilla, Yauco and Ponce. Most of Puerto Rico is still without power as engineers work to restore it in phases. About 100,000 customers are back on the grid, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said.
The system-wide power outage was reported after the Costa Sur power plant in Guayanilla suffered severe damage on Tuesday, the governor said.
“We lost the largest plant in the entire system,” said Jose Ortiz, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority.
Ortiz said power has been restored in most hospitals and crews are working to fully restore it by the weekend. In Ponce, a nursing home was evacuated and dozens of people in wheelchairs were waiting outside.
Classes have not resumed
Education officials announced classes won’t resume across the island until crews inspect all schools and confirm buildings are safe for students.
The Agripina Seda School in Guanica suffered major damage Tuesday, including a partially-collapsed, three-story building.
“Classes in the public school system won’t resume until a total evaluation of all campuses,” Education Secretary Eligio Hernández Pérez tweeted, adding that teachers and staff won’t return to the schools until further notice.
Damage worse than hurricane, official says
The earthquakes come more than two years after Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory in September 2017. Many in southern Puerto Rico said the earthquakes’ damage was worse.
There’s no way to compare both disasters, Puerto Rico Police Commissioner Henry Escalera said.
“There’s no warnings for this,” he said about the earthquakes. “A hurricane gives us time to plan ahead.”
When asked about what concerns him the most about the aftermath of the earthquakes, he said, “It’s our homes … that homes will not be safe to live in and the possibility of a collapse that will cause a person’s death or serious injuries.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced aid has been made available to supplement local response efforts to the emergency conditions in the area.
President Donald Trump’s action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures to save lives and protect property.