Aftershock shakes Puerto Ricans again
GUÁNICA, Puerto Rico — Signs of life had returned to the coastal towns on the southern part of this territory Saturday when they were stunned — again — by a 5.9 magnitude aftershock that brought new power outages, damage and fears that perhaps the worst of the island’s incessant shaking was not over.
With damage now reaching $110 million, Gov. Wanda Vázquez said she had signed an official disaster declaration asking the federal government to clear the way for additional federal assistance.
She also said the government would impose a consumer price freeze on gasoline, as well as emergency items such as water containers, sleeping bags and tarps.
“It’s important that our citizens know that we need to stay calm,” she said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “This was expected.”
The main highway into Guánica, near the latest quake’s epicenter, was blocked off by police and the National Guard, which raced to the scene after a huge crack opened in the asphalt on a bridge. A traffic jam formed on the perimeter road, which, unlike earlier in the week, was full of local fruit trucks and people trying to return to their normal routines.
The temblor, which hit 8 miles southeast of Guánica shortly before 9 a.m., was the strongest aftershock yet in the wake of the 6.4 magnitude quake that hit the island Tuesday.
Scores of smaller temblors have rattled the island in recent days, including a 5.2 magnitude aftershock Friday. Seismologists said they were a sign that the island’s multiple faults may have started activating one another.
With a fifth of the island still without power going into the weekend, Saturday’s aftershock brought new electrical outages to areas around Ponce, Lares, Adjuntas and San Germán in the southern part of the island, officials said.
The Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority had said it hoped to restore power across the entire island as early as Sunday, but the new outages could complicate that forecast.
About 35 percent of the island’s customers were without power Saturday afternoon, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
Even if power is restored by Sunday, “there will be little to no reserve capacity,” the agency said.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico to help guarantee adequate health care services under federal aid programs.
If President Donald Trump signs a disaster declaration, it would clear the way for additional federal disaster aid. Trump approved an initial emergency declaration earlier in the week.
Across the region, thousands of residents have been camping outside in empty lots and along roads, fearful of returning to damaged homes or structures that could collapse with new aftershocks.
“This is really screwed up,” said José M. Nazario, 76, as he again looked in on his small, two-story house near the center of Guánica. The structure still stands, but the series of quakes damaged windows and tiles, broke a dish cabinet, knocked out drawers and broke a toilet. For four nights, he has slept in his Toyota Corolla.
“They say a 7 or 8 could be coming,” he said. “I don’t know. But they keep getting stronger.”
The U.S. Geological Survey has warned of a strong chance of continuing aftershocks of 5.0 magnitude or greater but said Saturday morning that the chance of a temblor stronger than Tuesday’s big quake was only 4 percent.
Elizabeth Vanacore, a seismologist with the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, said tremors would continue for at least a few more weeks. A strong aftershock, like the one Saturday morning, will also cause its own aftershocks, Vanacore said.
“We suspect that we have at least a few faults involved right now,” she said. She likened the high density of faults to a crowded subway car, in which people bump into each other, causing a chain reaction of collisions.
FEMA officials said about 3,500 Puerto Ricans were out of their homes and living outside, while an additional 4,000 were staying in 30 shelters set up in the affected region. Nongovernmental organizations had set up 19 mobile feeding sites.
At an improvised aid center in Guánica set up for things such as water, toilet paper, diapers and vienna sausages, residents described Saturday’s aftershock.
Reinaldo Morales, 57, said he had slept for the first time all week Friday night by leaving his house and pitching a tent next to his car. When the ground rattled again, he felt calmer.
“We know we’re safer outside,” he said.
A big rock sits amid rubble of a wall it destroyed after it rolled down a cliff during Saturday’s 5.9magnitude aftershock in Guanica, Puerto Rico, the strongest one since Tuesday’s earthquake.
Jessica Sepulveda hand washes clothes in a plastic bin at a temporary shelter on a parking lot in Guanica.