A strong earthquake woke up Puerto Rico, Saturday morning. The epicenter of these tremors continues to be the south region of the island.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A 5.4 magnitude earthquake hit near southern Puerto Rico on Saturday, briefly knocking out power and jolting many from their beds on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit at 7:13 AM at a shallow depth of 5.6 miles (nine kilometers) near the city of Ponce and the towns of Guanica and Guayanilla, where hundreds of homes were destroyed by a quake in early January that killed one person and caused millions of dollars in damage.
Reports of damage were still trickling in on Saturday, with at least one second-story balcony crashing in the southern city of Ponce, spokeswoman Inés Rivera told The Associated Press. Meanwhile, cracks in homes were reported in Guayanilla.
“Everything shook really hard,” spokesman Danny Hernández said by phone. Meanwhile, in Guánica, Mayor Santos Seda told the AP that no major damage has been reported so far, but noted that between five to 10 people remain in a shelter since the 6.4-magnitude quake that hit in January.
“Thank God everyone is OK,” he said. “The infrastructure is already weak.”
Several aftershocks hit Puerto Rico’s southern region, including a 4.9-magnitude one.
Víctor Huérfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, said in a phone interview that while it’s understandable many people are afraid and surprised by the most recent earthquake, it’s not unusual given the seismic activity that began in the region in late December.
“In the long run, it’s decreasing, but you can have peaked,” he said, adding that he expects strong aftershocks to continue.
The earthquake struck as Puerto Ricans are ordered to remain home as part of a two-month lockdown to help curb coronavirus cases. Gov. Wanda Vázquez tweeted that rescue crews were fanning out across the area and that she would shortly be traveling there to meet with those affected in person.
“If your infrastructure is damaged, you must leave with your face mask on and your emergency backpack,” she said as she urged people to remain calm.
But nerves are already frayed in many parts of the island as Puerto Rico continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, a string of strong earthquakes and the coronavirus. Silvestre Alicea, a 67-year-old man who moved back to Puerto Rico from New York upon retiring, lost his home in January’s earthquake and is still living with his sister in Guanica.
“This is unreal,” he said, adding that some neighbors have left the area to stay with relatives elsewhere and that many, including a security guard who worked all night, are now sitting nervously in their balconies. “He hasn’t slept.”
Alicea, however, said he decided to knock down a couple of breadfruits from a nearby tree as the aftershocks continue: “I’m taking it easy. There’s nothing else you can do.”
The earthquake brought back fears from January’s 6.2
This is the first tremor of magnitude greater than 5 that has been on the island since February. A seismic sequence has been affecting Puerto Rico since December 28th, 2019. The southwest region has been the most affected area.
Chief Meteorologist and expert Ada Monzón reported on Facebook Live that Saturday’s earthquake could unleash a new seismic sequence.
After the first earthquake occurred at 7:13 AM, six additional aftershocks were reported in a period of 22 minutes by Puerto Rico Seismic Network, including one of 4.9 magnitude.
This is a developing story.
Associated Press contributed to this story.