5.4-magnitude earthquake hits near Puerto Rico

A 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit near southern Puerto Rico on Saturday, jolting many from their beds and forcing at least 50 families to relocate on an island where some people still remain in shelters from previous quakes earlier this year. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit just off the coast of Tallaboa, Peñuelas, and was felt in nearby towns — including Guánica and Guayanilla, where hundreds of homes were destroyed by a quake in early January that killed one person and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The temblor hit as Puerto Ricans remain home under a nearly two-month lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is a crisis on top of another crisis,” said Health Secretary Lorenzo González.

Reports of damage were still trickling in early Saturday morning, with at least one second-story balcony crashing in the southern city of Ponce, city spokeswoman Inés Rivera said. Meanwhile, cracks in homes were reported in Guayanilla.

“Everything shook really hard,” Guayanilla spokesman Danny Hernández said by phone.

Ponce Mayor María Meléndez tweeted images of the damages Saturday morning while also urging people to “avoid going to the city center until we make sure everyone is safe.”

Guánica Mayor Santos Seda told the AP that no major damage has been reported so far.

“Thank God everyone is OK,” he said. “The infrastructure is already weak.”

He said between five to 10 people remain in a shelter since the 6.4-magnitude quake that hit in January.

Rescue crews were deployed to affected areas, according to Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez.

Vázquez said she was “in communication with several mayors” in order to “know firsthand what are the particular needs of each town.” Telemundo Puerto Rico reported that the governor will be visiting the affected areas.

“If your structure is compromised, you should leave with your face mask and emergency backpack. Pay attention to any official information,” Vázquez told Telemundo in a statement.

The quake knocked out power to area residents, with the power authority tweeted that it is “in the process to restore service.”

Several aftershocks hit the area, including a 4.6-magnitude one.

The 50 families that have to relocated will not be placed in shelters given concerns about the coronavirus, the governor said. She also urged Puerto Ricans to stay home even if they want to drive to the island’s southern region to help people and distribute food as they did earlier thisyear following the 6.4-magnitude earthquake.

Meanwhile, in Guánica, Mayor Santos Seda said no major damage had been reported so far, but five to 10 people remain in a shelter since January’s quake.

“Thank God everyone is OK,” he said. “The infrastructure is already weak.”

Víctor Huérfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, said that while it’s understandable many people are afraid and surprised by the quake, it’s not unusual given the seismic activity that began in the region earlier this year.

“In the long run, it’s decreasing, but you can have peaks,” he said, adding that he expects strong aftershocks to continue.

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