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Powerful Earthquake in Puerto Rico Kills One, Leads to Blackout

Climate
A man carries a St. Jude statue from the Inmaculada Concepcion church ruins that was built in 1841 and collapsed after an earthquake hit the island in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico on Jan. 7, 2020. RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP via Getty Images

A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico just before dawn on Tuesday after a week of heavy seismic activity. The early morning quake caused power plants to shut down to protect themselves, leaving the island in a blackout until power is restored later in the day. It also killed at least one person, injured at least eight and collapsed buildings, as the AP reported.


The quake struck at 4:24 a.m. (3:24 a.m. ET), with its epicenter just off Puerto Rico's southern coast, about 6 miles south of Indios town, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, as CNN reported. The quake triggered three strong aftershocks with preliminary estimates of 5.6, 5.2 and 4.5 magnitude. A bit later a 5.8-magnitude temblor hit closer to Indios at 7:18 a.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake follows a 10-day series of temblors spawned by the grinding of tectonic plates along three faults beneath southern Puerto Rico. Seismologists are unable to predict when the quakes will stop or if they will continue and get stronger, according to the AP.

Tuesday's quake was the strongest to hit the island since the temblors began on Dec. 28. It killed Nelson Martínez Guillén, 73, who died after a wall fell on him in the city of Ponce, Mayor Mayita Meléndez said. Another woman had a broken leg after she was pinned under a wall, as The New York Times reported.

"The people are scared," Ms. Meléndez said, according to The New York Times. "There are homes that are totally destroyed."

She added that the tremors moving through the area have people near the beach living in fear of tsunamis and desperate to flee their homes. However, the United States National Tsunami Warning Center wrote on Twitter that there was no related tsunami threat.

"It's not safe," Ms. Melendez said, as The New York Times reported. "The earth is moving constantly."

Govenor Wanda Vázquez ordered government offices to remain closed Tuesday except for employees working in an emergency capacity, as the Miami Herald reported.

"It's important for the people of Puerto Rico to remain calm and to secure their lives and property," she said in a statement, according to the Miami Herald. "Citizen security is a priority for me, so we are inspecting vulnerable areas and we're taking all the measures necessary to guarantee the safety of Puerto Ricans."

Local news on Puerto Rico's southern coast reported that several houses collapsed on the coastline and a local highway was shutdown due to rock fall. A nearby elementary school saw its roof cave in and much of the island remained without power on Tuesday morning, according to the Miami Herald.

In Guayanilla municipality, the city's colonial-era church from the 1840s, Immaculate Conception, was destroyed.

"All that's left is one wall and half of another wall," said Glidden Lopez, the spokesman for Guayanilla municipality, of the beige and pink building that had dominated the main plaza, as the Miami Herald reported. "The hospital was damaged and there were several houses that have collapsed but we don't know how many yet."

Reverend Melvin Díaz Aponte told The New York Times that both bell towers collapsed, but the nave still stands, though it is fragile.

"For those who have lived here their whole lives, this is their history," said Father Díaz, as The New York Times reported. "Their sacraments, their wedding."

Guayanilla also saw a coastal rock formation that had looked like a rounded window collapse. The rock formation, called Punta Ventana, was a popular tourist draw, as the AP reported.

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