2019–20 Puerto Rico earthquakes
|UTC time||2020-01-07 08:24:26|
|Local date||January 7, 2020|
|Local time||04:24 AST|
|Depth||10 km (6 mi)|
|Max. intensity||VII (Very strong)|
|Casualties||4 dead, 9 injured|
Starting on December 28, 2019, and progressing into 2021, the southwestern part of the island of Puerto Rico was struck by an earthquake swarm, including 11 that were of magnitude 5 or greater. The largest and most damaging of this sequence was a magnitude 6.4 Mw, which occurred on January 7 at 04:24 AST (08:24 UTC), with a maximum felt intensity of VII (Very strong) on the Modified Mercalli intensity scale. At least one person was killed and several others were injured.
A 5.8 Mw earthquake the previous day caused the destruction of a natural arch, a tourist attraction at Punta Ventana in Guayanilla. A 5.9 Mw aftershock on Saturday, January 11, damaged many structures, including several historical buildings as well as modern high-rises in the city of Ponce.
Power was lost Island-wide immediately after the quake, and was increasingly restored over a period of a week. Damage to homes was extensive and, by 14 January, more than 8,000 people were homeless and camping outdoors in various types of shelters, with 40,000 others camping outside their homes, just in the city of Ponce alone. There were refugees in 28 government-sponsored refugee centers spread over 14 municipalities of southern and central Puerto Rico. Damage to government structures was calculated in the hundreds of millions and financial losses were estimated in $3.1 billion. A power plant that supplied over a quarter of Puerto Rico's energy needs was badly damaged and was shut down, with repairs estimated to take at least a year.
The day of the main quake, January 7, Puerto Rico governor Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency and activated the Puerto Rico National Guard and the Puerto Rico State Guard. That same day, she also made available $130 million in aid to the municipalities affected. The White House also approved $5 million in federal emergency relief. On January 12, the day after the January 11 5.9 aftershock, the governor distributed $12 million to six municipalities most affected by the quake. Tent cities were set up in five of the hardest-hit towns with space for some 3,200 refugees.
Puerto Rico lies at the highly oblique convergent boundary between the Caribbean Plate and the North American Plate. A separate Puerto Rico–Virgin Islands microplate has been identified based on GPS observations. To the north the North American Plate is being subducted beneath this microplate along the Puerto Rico Trench. To the south of Puerto Rico the microplate is being thrust southwards over the Caribbean Plate along the Muertos Thrust system. On the upper slope and shelf the current style of faulting is extensional with a series of WSW-ENE trending normal faults, such as the Ponce Fault and the Bajo Tasmanian Fault. Several faults are also known to cross parts of the main island.
The sequence began on December 28, 2019 with a Mw 4.7 earthquake, followed closely by a Mw 5.0 event in the early hours of December 29. Several earthquakes of M <5 occurred over the next few days, followed by a Mw 5.8 event at 10:32 UTC on January 6. The largest event, a Mw 6.4, occurred the next morning, followed by a Mw 5.6 event within 10 minutes and a Mw 5.0 about 15 minutes after that. The Mw 6.4 event had a focal mechanism consistent with normal faulting on a fault trending WSW-ENE. A Mw 5.9 event was then logged on January 11 at 12:54 UTC. In the first month of the sequence there were a total of 11 M ≥5 earthquakes and a further 82 in the range M 4–4.9. A Mw 5.4 earthquake occurred on May 2 at 11:13 UTC in the same area as the M 6.4 event and with a similar focal mechanism. As of May 2, after a further two M>4 shocks in the same area, the total number of earthquakes in the sequence of M>3 exceeded 1,000 and there had been 95 of M>4.
Puerto Rico governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency on January 7 and mobilized the Puerto Rico National Guard. On January 8, the day after the main quake, the Ponce municipal government registered 1,111 residents in city shelters, "not including hundreds more" who drove to government-designated meeting sites, such as Estadio Paquito Montaner, to sleep in their cars. The parking lot at Auditorio Juan Pachin Vicens was also used as a meeting site. The Bernardino Cordero Bernard Vocational High School was also used as a shelter. The night after the quake, it was estimated that over 40,000 Ponce residents chose to sleep in their cars instead of their homes out of fear of more quakes. By January 13 the number of refugees was estimated at around 3,000 Island-wide, but the municipal officials of some local governments believed that figure was probably about right for refugees in just their own single municipalities. Another estimate out the number of refugees at 5,000.
On January 7, the Puerto Rican government made available $130 million in aid. Late January 7, FEMA confirmed that US president Donald Trump had issued a (non-disaster) emergency declaration with a $5 million cap. The $5 million emergency declaration monies were to be spent on emergency services only. On January 12, 2020, Puerto Rico governor Wanda Vázquez Garced made a disbursement of $2 million to each of six municipalities most affected by the quake; the monies came from the Puerto Rico State Emergency Reserve Fund. The government set up a central command center, where all pertinent state and municipal dependencies supporting the relief effort were to set up base and coordinate activities at the Polydeportivo Frankie Colon in Urbanización Los Caobos, Barrio Bucaná, Ponce. It also became a collection center for items for the earthquake homeless.
By January 14, over 600 soldiers of the Puerto Rico National Guard had set up five tent cities for the homeless, with at least some tents outfitted with air conditioning for the bed-ridden and the elderly, in the towns of Guánica, Yauco, Guayanilla, Peñuelas and Ponce, with facilities for over 3,200 refugees.
A man died in Urbanización Jardines del Caribe in the city of Ponce as a direct result of the January 7 quake, and eight others were injured also in Ponce. A woman died of a heart attack in the town of Guayanilla after a 4.36-magnitude aftershock hit overnight during the night of January 9 to January 10. By January 10, two additional people had died of medical conditions attributed to the effects of the earthquakes.
There were refugees in 28 government-sponsored refugee centers in the southern and central Puerto Rico municipalities of Yauco, Guánica, Ponce, Peñuelas, Guayanilla, Utuado, Maricao, Juana Díaz, Adjuntas, Sabana Grande, San Germán, Lajas, Jayuya and Mayagüez. The quakes also caused 28 families in Lares to lose their homes. At least three residential high-rise buildings in Ponce were rendered unusable, leaving the residents homeless.
On January 13, it was reported that some 3,000 homes had been destroyed or significantly damaged. By January 14, the number of homeless region-wide had climbed to 8,000. A 15 January 2020 register of homes rendered uninhabitable listed at least 789 properties. The number of homes with some level of damage was, however, significantly higher. For example, according to its mayor, in the town of Yauco alone, there were 3,200 homes with some degree of damage.
The January 7 quake destroyed numerous structures, including the Agripina Seda elementary school in Guánica and the Inmaculada Concepción Church in Guayanilla. Also severely damaged by the January 7 quake were the La Guancha Recreational and Cultural Complex, which was made inoperable and where 24 establishments had to shut down their operations, and Auditorio Juan Pachín Vicéns. The Moscoso Building of the Ponce City Hall was also damaged.
The January 11 aftershock inflicted further damage. Among the structures damaged by this aftershock were the Ponce Servicios municipal government building, Museo de la Masacre de Ponce, Residencia Armstrong-Poventud, and Casa Vives.
In Ponce both historic and modern buildings were damaged. Among these were Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Museo de la Masacre, Iglesia Evangélica (northwest corner of C. Unión and C. Vives); "La Gloria" store on Paseo Atocha, Hotel Ponce Plaza, Condominium Ponciana on C. Marina, Darlington Building, also on C. Marina. The damages forced the closing of several downtown streets. There was also damage to Logia Aurora, also on C. Marina. Guanica and Yauco were particularly impacted. The Guanica lighthouse was among the buildings in that town with particular damage.
On January 11, Ponce alone had sustained an estimated $150 million in damages. By 14 January 2020, the vice-mayor of Ponce estimated the cost of the damages so far in her town, one of the towns most severely hit, at $1 billion. Financial losses were calculated at $3.1 billion US dollars.
The May 2 M 5.5 earthquake caused further damage to buildings in Ponce. Some power outages were also reported.
There was no electricity in Ponce and in most of Puerto Rico on Tuesday, January 7, the day of the 4:24AM earthquake. "More than 250,000" residents island-wide were left without water and another half a million had no power. There were also rock and landslides. Among damage to infrastructure, the 5.9 aftershock quake the morning of January 11 created a crack in a bridge, and was expected to delay restoration of power. The Costa Sur power plant, which provides a quarter of the island's power, had sustained "destruction on a grand scale" and estimates said it would take at least a year for repairs to be completed. Consideration was being given the building a brand new plant instead of repairing the damaged plant.
Road damages due to landslides included Puerto Rico highways PR-132, PR-139, and PR-218. PR-2 had landslides in the area of Peñón de Ponce; PR-9, a 4-lane highway under construction, had damages that set back the opening date several months; and PR-52 had damage to its Ponce toll booth plaza. Among bridges damaged were two on PR-127 in Guayanilla, at kilometer markers 9.1 and 10.3.
On January 17, Puerto Rico governor fired three members of her Cabinet after a group of Puerto Ricans broke into an enormous State warehouse in the La Guancha sector of Barrio Playa in Ponce and found it fully stocked with emergency items including cots, gas stoves, batteries, water, baby formula, diapers that had been stored there since after Hurricane Maria, and which the governor had not been made aware of. The governor nominated the Adjutant General of the Puerto Rico National Guard to take over the post of fired Office of Emergency Management Secretary and ordered him to immediately move the items to the refugee centers of the municipalities affected by the earthquake and to distribute them to those people needing them.
The Puerto Rican Government contracted the services of nearly 50 structural engineers to evaluate each public school in the Island for structural stability post-earthquake and to certify them as safe enough to open. Classes were delayed more than 10 days Island-wide, longer in the two school regions most intensely hit by the earthquakes.
In the aftermath of the main quake and its major aftershocks, thousands of residents, including many whose homes had not been damaged, developed seismophobia and continued sleeping outdoors weeks after the earthquake of January 7.
On January 10, USGS and Puerto Rico Seismic Network (PRSN) scientists were working to install six sets of temporary seismometers near the southern coast to augment the existing PRSN instruments.
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- Experts seek answers behind constant quakes in Puerto Rico. Danica Coto. The Associated Press. 14 January 2020. Accessed 14 January 2020.
- Cifra parcial de refugiados asciende a más de 8,000. Osman Pérez Méndez Primera Hora. 14 January 2020. Accessed 14 January 2020.
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- La declaración de emergencia de Donald Trump tiene un límite de $5 millones: FEMA confirma que en espera de una declaración de desastre, su intervención tiene por el momento un tope financiero. El Nuevo Dia. Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. 13 January 2020. Accessed 13 January 2020.
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Prentice and Mann (2005)
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- Gobernadora declara estado de emergencia tras terremotos. Bárbara Figueroa Rosa. Primera Hora. 7 January 2020. Accessed 13 January 2020.
- Figueroa Cancel, Alex (8 January 2020). "Sobre mil personas continúan refugiadas en Ponce". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 January 2020.
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- Barbra Streisand comenta el bloqueo de Trump a los fondos para Puerto Rico. Miguel Diaz. EsNoticia. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 13 January 2020. Accessed 13 January 2020.
- Hit by devastating earthquakes, Puerto Rico still waiting on billions for hurricane relief: Pelosi calls on administration to ‘cease and desist’ its ‘unlawful’ withholding of funds. Erica Werner. The Washington Post. 9 January 2020. 12 January 2020.
- COE en Ponce servirá como centro de acopio para recibir donaciones. Cyber News. 12 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Abrió en Guánica primer campamento militar para víctimas del terremoto. Bárbara J. Figueroa Rosa 14 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
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- 6.4 magnitude earthquake strikes Puerto Rico, injuring eight people: Strong quake followed by an aftershock measuring 6.0, Heavy damage in some areas. The Guardian. Associated Press. 7 January 2020. Accessed 9 January 2020.
- Puerto Ricans in earthquake shelters refuse to go home. Dánica Coto. Associated Press. 10 January 2020. Accessed 12 January 2020.
- As Lights Flicker On After Puerto Rico Earthquake, Officials Say 3 More Have Died. The New York Times. 10 January 2020. Accessed 13 January 2020.
- "Refugiadas 28 familias en Lares tras temblor 5.9 del sábado". Primera Hora (in Spanish). January 12, 2020.
- Tres condominios en Ponce quedaron inhabitables por los terremotos. Michelle Estrada Torres. Voces del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 14 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Cerca de 5,000 refugiados a casi una semana del terremoto del 7 de enero. Dánica Coto, Associated Press. Agencia EFE. 13 January 2020. Accessed 13 January 2020.
- Cifra parcial de refugiados asciende a más de 8,000: El secretario de Estado admitió que “no tenemos el número de personas durmiendo en las aceras” y podrían ser miles más. Osman Pérez Méndez. 14 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Al menos 789 casas afectadas por los temblores de tierra. Cyber News. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Sismos en el sur: Pasan terrible factura emocional y estructural en Yauco y Ponce: El alcalde de Yauco, Ángel Luis Torres Ortiz, indicó que unas 3,200 unidades de vivienda en su municipio sufrieron daños a raíz de la actividad sismica de la pasada semana. Jason Rodríguez Grafal. 15 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- El mar se apodera de comunidad en Guayanilla. 22 January 2020.Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Puerto Ricans in Central Florida feel the emotional toll of Puerto Rico earthquake. Cecilia Figueroa. El Sentinel Orlando. 7 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Puerto Rico reels under successive earthquakes; Catholic church damaged. Dennis Sadowski. Angelus. Catholic News Service. 7 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- "Desastre sísmico en escuela elemental de Guánica". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). 7 January 2020. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
- "Así quedó la Parroquia Inmaculada Concepción de Guayanilla tras terremoto". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). 7 January 2020. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
- Hundreds of Thousands Could Be Without Power for a Year After Puerto Rico Earthquakes. Jonathan Erdman and Ron Brackett. Slide 59 of 63. January 09 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- La Guancha queda inoperable luego de los terremotos. Primera Hora. 8 January 2020. Accessed 10 January 2020.
- Daños en el “Pachín” Vicéns en Ponce. Michelle Estrada Torres. Voces del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 7 January 2020. Accessed 11 January 2020.
- María "Mayita" Meléndez prevé daños multimillonarios en Ponce: La alcaldesa estimó que sobre 40,000 personas no duerme en sus casas y prefiere pernoctar en sus autos por miedo a los terremotos. Alex Figueroa Cancel. El Nuevo Dia. 8 January 2020. Accessed 13 January 2020.
- Cerrado el casco urbano de Ponce por daños en casas y otras estructuras. Michelle Estrada Torres. Voces del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 11 January 2020. Accessed 11 January 2020.
- Serios daños en museos de Ponce. Sara Marrero Caban. Voces del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 11 January 2020. Accessed 11 January 2020.
- Casa Vives. Voces del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. Accessed 11 January 2020.
- Terremoto afecta Casa Vives en Ponce: El terremoto de 5.9 ocurrido el 11 de enero de 2020 dañó parte de la histórica Casa Vives, que en noviembre de 2019 se había convertido en el restaurante Velada. Sus dueños detallan los daños y comentan sobre el futuro del negocio. Voces del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 11 January 2020. Accessed 11 January 2020.
- Hundreds of Thousands Could Be Without Power for a Year After Puerto Rico Earthquakes. Jonathan Erdman and Ron Brackett. Slide 26 of 63. 9 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Hundreds of Thousands Could Be Without Power for a Year After Puerto Rico Earthquakes. Jonathan Erdman and Ron Brackett. Slide 12 of 63. 9 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Hundreds of Thousands Could Be Without Power for a Year After Puerto Rico Earthquakes. Jonathan Erdman and Ron Brackett. 9 January 2020. Slide 23 of 63. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Hundreds of Thousands Could Be Without Power for a Year After Puerto Rico Earthquakes. Jonathan Erdman and Ron Brackett. Slide 49 of 63. 9 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Ponce estima en cerca de $1,000 millones sus pérdidas por los temblores. Primera Hora. 14 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
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- Mazzei, Patricia (11 January 2020). "New 5.9 Earthquake Rattles Puerto Rico, Causing More Power Outages". NY Times. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
- La AEE contempla construir una nueva planta en vez de reparar Costa Sur: La decisión dependerá de los daños por los sismos, pero a la corporación pública le preocupa la vulnerabilidad del terreno y ubicación. Alex Figueroa Cancel. 15 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Clausurados tres condominios en Ponce y otros ocho en evaluación. Miguel Diaz. 14 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Por demolición del peaje: Tardará dos semanas la reapertura de la PR-52 en Ponce: La Autoridad de Carreteras y Transportación trabaja en la construcción de un carril central temporero en el tramo de la PR-2 en el sector Las Cucharas de Ponce, que ha sido impactado por frecuentes derrumbes. Jason Rodríguez Grafal. La Perla del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 15 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Puerto Rico governor fires emergency director after aid is found sitting in warehouse. Audrey McNamara. CBS News. 19 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Puerto Rico governor fires 2 more officials after emergency supplies found sitting in warehouse. Peter Martinez and Audrey McNamara. CBS News. 19 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Colegio de Ingenieros: 500 escuelas podrían colapsar en un terremoto. Osman Pérez Méndez. Primera Hora. 8 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Puerto Rico reabrirá escuelas públicas tras sismo de 6,4: los ingenieros habían inspeccionado 561 de las 856 escuelas públicas, y hallaron que 9% eran inseguras como resultado de los daños causados por terremotos. Associated Press. 17 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Tan solo 500 escuelas están reforzadas contra terremotos en Puerto Rico, según el Colegio de Ingenieros y Agrimensores: Esta autodenominada corporación cuasi-pública sin fines de lucro también denunció que todavía, en Puerto Rico, hay escuelas con un diseño de columnas cortas, en las que se ha comprobado hay un peligro inminente de colapso en caso de terremoto. Univision. 8 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Hundreds take shelter in Puerto Rico in fear of more tremors. News 12 Bronx. 22 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- Earthquakes Trigger Anxiety In Puerto Rico: 'There's No Way To Prepare'. Adrian Florido. 11 Januury 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
- People are living in fear as earthquakes and aftershocks in Puerto Rico continue.. Denise Oliver Velez. 11 January 2020. Accessed 22 January 2020.
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