Af­ter­shock shakes Puerto Ri­cans again

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION - By Pa­tri­cia Mazzei, Edmy Ayala and Ni­cholas Bogel-Bur­roughs

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.

Car­los Giusti / As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

Ri­cardo Arduengo / AFP / Getty Im­ages

Jes­sica Sepul­veda hand washes clothes in a plas­tic bin at a tem­po­rary shel­ter on a park­ing lot in Guanica.

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