6.5 quake strikes Puerto Rico amid heavy seismic activity

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) — A 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn yesterday, the largest in a series of quakes that have struck the United States (US) territory in recent days and caused heavy damage in some areas.

A tsunami alert was initially issued for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, but later cancelled.

The Electric Power Authority reported an island-wide power outage.

The US Geological Survey said the quake hit at 4.24am just south of the island at a shallow depth of 10 kilometres. It initially gave the magnitude as 6.6 but later adjusted it.

Albert Rodríguez, who is from the southwest town of Guánica, said the tsunami sirens went off before officials cancelled the alert. He said there is widespread damage in his neighbourhood.

A collapsed building with car crushed underneath following an earthquake in Yauco, Puerto Rico. PHOTO: AP

“The road is cracked in the middle and it lifted up,” he said.

Director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network Víctor Huérfano told The Associated Press that he does not have immediate reports of damage or injuries because communications are down for much of the island. He said officials in the large southern coastal city of Ponce told him there was widespread damage.

“We expect that this will be the largest quake for now,” he said. “The aftershocks will continue for some time.”

Puerto Rico’s Governor Wanda Vasquez told station Radioisla just before 6am that there had been no immediate reports of deaths. She said she was closing government offices for the day and urged citizens to remain calm and not check damage to their homes until daylight.

A 5.8-magnitude quake that struck early on Monday morning collapsed five homes in the southwest coastal town of Guánica and heavily damaged dozens of others. It also caused small landslides and power outages. The quake was followed by a string of smaller temblors.

The shake 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.

Residents in the south of the island have been terrified to go into their homes for fear that another quake will bring buildings down.

The flurry of quakes in Puerto Rico’s southern region began the night of December 28, 2019. Director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network Victor Huerfano told the AP 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 squeezed Puerto Rico.

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.