A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico early Tuesday, killing at least one person and causing an island-wide power outage as well as structural damage to roads and bridges, especially in the southwestern part of the island.
There have been at least 24 aftershocks since the earthquake, the largest in a series of quakes, hit at 4:24 am, according to authorities.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez said in a press conference Tuesday morning that she has signed an order to declare an islandwide state of emergency.
“We’ve never been exposed to this kind of emergency in 102 years,” she said in Spanish.
Government offices and schools were closed, as well as some hospitals in the island’s southwestern region. Residents, especially in the south, have been terrified to go into their homes for fear that another quake will bring them down.
Vázquez urged citizens to stay calm and asked public employees to stay home while authorities assess the damages. First responders, the governor said, were reporting to their usual areas. Authorities urged residents to stay home unless they thought their residences had structural damage.
“Citizen security is a priority, so vulnerable areas are being inspected and all necessary measures will be taken to ensure the safety of all Puerto Ricans,” Vasquez said in a statement.
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In the southern city of Ponce, a man died after an inner wall that was under construction in his house collapsed during the quake. The victim was identified as Nelson Martínez, 73. Ray González, his nephew, told Telemundo he was woken up by “the big noise” of the wall collapsing.
Ponce, one of the island’s largest cities, is also grappling with landslides affecting its main highway.
Albert Rodríguez, who is from the southwest town of Guánica, said tsunami sirens went off before officials canceled the alert. He said there is widespread damage in his neighborhood.
“The road is cracked in the middle and it lifted up,” he said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted that he had been in contact with President Donald Trump and with FEMA about the situation in Puerto Rico.
Part of the widespread destruction in Rodríguez’s town includes a public school near the earthquake’s epicenter.
The school Agripina Seda collapsed completely because of the widespread quakes. César González of the Puerto Rico Department of Education told Telemundo that the school is the one “the biggest damages” he’s seen so far. Other schools in the area have reported less damage.
González added that the roughly 200 students that attend the school will most likely have to be relocated to other schools.
Tuesday’s earthquake follows the 5.8-magnitude one that struck early Monday morning, collapsing five homes in Guánica and heavily damaging dozens of others.
Puerto Rico’s residents have been feeling tremors since Dec. 28., and the last two earthquakes have set islanders on edge as they grapple with the uncertainty of what comes next.
Victor Huerfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, told The Associated Press 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 squeeze Puerto Rico.
One of the island’s most iconic landmarks, the Guánica lighthouse, built by the Spanish in 1892, suffered damage after the earthquake. Although the lighthouse’s tower survived, one of its front walls collapsed.
The shake also 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.
“Playa Ventana collapsed. Today our icon remains in our memory,” Guayanilla’s press officer, Glidden López, wrote on his Facebook page on Monday.
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.
Sandra Lilley contributed.