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Puerto Rico hit with nearly a dozen earthquakes, aftershocks

Local media reported that one person had died and another was injured in a home collapse in the aftermath of an initial 6.4 magnitude quake off the coast


Debris from a collapsed wall of a building litters the ground after an earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020.

AP Photo/Carlos Giusti

By Jim Wyss
Miami Herald

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico was hit by a series of strong earthquakes and aftershocks early Tuesday that damaged buildings, cracked roads and left much of the island in the dark.

Local media reported that at least one person had died and another was injured during a home collapse in Ponce, on the island’s southern coast, but that report could not be immediately confirmed.

Tuesday’s spate of earthquakes began at 4:24 a.m. when a magnitude 6.4 hit off the southern coast, briefly sparking a tsunami alert. Since then, the U.S. Geological Survey has reported at least 11 earthquakes and aftershocks, including a magnitude 6.0 at 7:18 a.m.

Tuesday’s earthquakes are the strongest to hit the island since seismic activity began spiking on Dec. 28.

Local news reported that several houses had collapsed along the southern coast, and one of the major highways connecting the southern part of the island was closed by rockfalls. An elementary school in Guanica — still closed due to the Christmas holidays — was also partially destroyed as part of its roof caved in. The island’s energy company said electricity to the entire island was out and would slowly be restored. As of 8:30 a.m. local time, power remained off in much of the capital, San Juan.

Glidden Lopez, the spokesman for Guayanilla municipality, said the city’s colonial-era church, from the 1840s, had been destroyed during the pre-dawn earthquake.

“All that’s left is one wall and half of another wall,” he said of the beige and pink building that had dominated the main plaza. “The hospital was damaged and there were several houses that have collapsed but we don’t know how many yet.”

Guayanilla had lost one if its main tourist attractions, a natural seaside arch known as Punta Ventana, during an earthquake on Monday.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez ordered government offices to remain closed Tuesday except for those working on the emergency.

“It’s important for the people of Puerto Rico to remain calm and to secure their lives and property,” she said in a statement. “Citizen security is a priority for me, so we are inspecting vulnerable areas and we’re taking all the measures necessary to guarantee the safety of Puerto Ricans.”

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million people, is located between two active tectonic plates, the North American plate and the Caribbean plate, and tremors are frequent. But the island has been hit by a series of unusually strong earthquakes since just after Christmas.

The largest earthquake ever recorded on the island was the 1918 San Fermín earthquake, a 7.1 off the northwest coast that sparked a tsunami that killed 116 people.


©2020 Miami Herald