Puerto Ricans sleep outside, wait for power after ‘devastating’ quake


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Many Puerto Ricans woke up on Wednesday to a second day without electricity after the island’s worst earthquake in over a century knocked out its biggest power plant, collapsed homes and killed at least one person.

Puerto Rico’s schools were closed on Wednesday and all public employees except police and health workers stayed home as engineers checked the safety of buildings after Tuesday’s 6.4 magnitude quake and powerful aftershocks.

Some Puerto Ricans in the hard-hit south of the island moved beds outside on Tuesday night and slept outdoors, fearful their homes would crumble if another earthquake hit after a week of tremors, governor Wanda Vázquez told reporters.

Nearly all of the island’s more than 3 million people lost power and only 100,000 customers had energy by late Tuesday night, according to the AEE electricity authority.

The agency scrambled to restart power plants that automatically shut down for safety during the quake. The large Costa Sur plant suffered “severe damage” and was put out of service, Vázquez said after declaring a state of emergency.

Power should return to most of the island within 24 to 48 hours, so long as there are no more quakes, she said.

“All of Puerto Rico has seen the devastation of this earthquake,” said Vázquez, who took office in August after Ricardo Rossello stepped down in the face of massive street protests against his administration.

Around 750 people spent the night in shelters in southern towns hit hardest by the earthquake, the government reported. Television images showed flattened homes and apartment buildings with deep cracks running down their exteriors in communities like Guánica and Ponce.

Bottled water, batteries and flashlights ran low at supermarkets in the capital San Juan and long lines formed outside gas stations. Backup generators kept the city’s international airport functioning.

Puerto Ricans are used to dealing with hurricanes but powerful quakes are rare on the island.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, this is the first time this has happened to us,” said Patricia Alonso, 48, who lost power and water at her home and headed to her mother’s apartment building with her 13-year-old son as it had a generator.

Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 that killed about 3,000 people and destroyed a significant amount of infrastructure. The island is also working through a bankruptcy process to restructure about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

Slideshow (5 Images)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Tuesday that aid had been made available for earthquake response efforts.

Tuesday’s magnitude 6.4 quake struck at a depth of 6 miles (10 km) at 4:24 a.m. (0824 GMT) near Ponce, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

A 73-year-old man died after a wall fell on him, and a Costa Sur power plant worker was hospitalized after he was hit by debris, the governor said.

Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by xxx

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