'I didn’t think we'd get out': 6.4 magnitude earthquake leaves 1 dead, power out across Puerto Rico
A 6.4-magnitude earthquake rumbled across Puerto Rico on Tuesday, killing at least one person and knocking out power to most of the island. USA TODAY
A 6.4 magnitude earthquake rumbled across Puerto Rico on Tuesday, killing at least one person and knocking out power to virtually the entire island of more than 3 million.
An aftershock three hours later registered at magnitude 6.0. The temblors came one day after the island was shaken by a 5.8 magnitude quake that crumbled homes and triggered states of emergency across the island.
Tuesday's quake was the largest in a series that have struck the U.S. territory in recent days and caused heavy damage in some areas, forcing more than 300 Puerto Ricans to leave their homes and seek refuge.
Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency, activating the National Guard but ordering government employees, except for first responders, to stay home.
Vázquez said residents should make emergency preparations for more quakes in the next few days. The island is equipped with more than 70 days of regular gas, 70 days of premium gas and 130 days of diesel, she said.
The government has set aside $130 million to deal with the crisis, she said.
“We’re all worried, we’re all nervous, anxious. It’s natural,” she said. “We don’t gain anything by creating hysteria. ... We’ve responded to many difficult situations. We have the resources.”
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, said he had discussed the situation with President Donald Trump. Scott said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had 2,300 staff in Puerto Rico ready to support recovery efforts.
"They assured me they’ll provide any resources the island needs," Scott said.
Vásquez said she has yet to receive a call from the president.
FEMA drew sharp criticism for its efforts after Hurricane Maria, which smashed across the island in 2017, killing thousands, destroying thousands of homes and knocking out power for weeks. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, warned that failure by federal agencies to quickly respond to the quakes "would be a severe dereliction of duty."
“The Trump administration’s indifference and incompetence have already cost residents of Puerto Rico their lives and their livelihoods," Grijalva said. "Continuing that pattern now is completely unacceptable."
Ponce Mayor Mayita Meléndez said at least one person died and eight were injured Tuesday in the southern coastal city. Teacher Rey González said his uncle was killed when a wall collapsed at the home they shared.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” said Nelson Rivera, 70, who fled his Ponce home. "I didn’t think we would get out. I said: ‘We’ll be buried here.’”
A tsunami alert issued for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands was quickly canceled. The Electric Power Authority, PREPA, reported some damage to two power stations and said power plants automatically shut down to protect themselves, causing the island-wide power outage.
José Ortiz, PREPA executive director, told El Nuevo Día the quakes damaged a power plant in Guayanilla in southwestern Puerto Rico, not far from the epicenter.
“Contrary to the tremors of yesterday, where there was no damage, today we experienced some damage and we have our staff evaluating what has happened," he said. He added that power could be returned across the island even if the plant was not brought back online Tuesday.
Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan was operating on generators, but all flights remained on schedule, Aerostar Puerto Rico CEO Jorge Hernández said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit at 4:24 a.m. south of the island at a depth of about 6 miles. The quake initially registered as 6.6 magnitude but later was adjusted.
Albert Rodríguez, in the southwest town of Guánica, said there is widespread damage in his neighborhood.
“The road is cracked in the middle, and it lifted up,” he said.
Monday's quake unleashed small landslides, causing power outages and severely cracking homes. That quake destroyed a popular tourist landmark, Punta Ventana, a coastal rock formation that had formed a sort of rounded window. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company confirmed that two other sites, Cueva Ventana and Ruinas del Faro, also suffered irreparable damage.
Víctor Huérfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, said it was too early to determine the extent of damage from Tuesday's temblors.
“We expect that this will be the largest quake for now,” he said. “The aftershocks will continue for some time.”
The flurry of quakes in Puerto Rico's southern region began Dec. 28 with a 4.7 magnitude quake followed by a 5.0. The preliminary location of Tuesday's earthquake was about 7 miles from Monday's 5.8 earthquake. Over the past several weeks, hundreds of small earthquakes have hit in the same region.
One of the largest and most damaging earthquakes to hit Puerto Rico occurred in October 1918, when a magnitude 7.3 quake struck near the island’s northwest coast, unleashing a tsunami and killing 116 people.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Puerto Rico earthquake: 'Panic' as two strong earthquakes strike within hours
A camera was rolling in a sound recording booth when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn on Tuesday. It was followed three hours later by an aftershock measuring 6.0. Eight people were injured in the city of Ponce. (Jan. 7) AP Domestic