Tandem Earthquakes Cause Building Collapses and Power Outages in Puerto Rico: 'This Is Hell'
More aftershocks are expected following the earthquakes, one which measured a magnitude 5.8.
Puerto Rico — which has experienced unusual seismic activity since late December — was hit by a pair of earthquakes early Monday morning that caused some buildings around the U.S. territory to fully or partially collapse.
A 5.8 magnitude earthquake jolted Puerto Rico at 6:32 a.m. local time, according to CBS News. The quake caused small landslides and power outages around the island. Photographs posted to social media showed damaged structures, and one picture showed two cars that had been completely crushed under a building.
A second quake, measuring at magnitude 5.1, hit the island at 10:51 a.m. There have been no immediate reports of casualties.
The quakes hit just as the island was preparing for Three Kings Day, a religious holiday comparable to Christmas Day that is known for social gatherings and gift-giving.
“This is hell,” resident Alberto Rodríguez told NBC News. “We haven’t slept … you can’t remain calm here. Guánica is no longer a safe place.”
Jose Francisco Benitez, who was staying at a hotel in the southern part of the island, told the outlet that residents who tried to leave the area were blocked by large boulders that fell onto a major highway.
“I have never felt anything like this,” he said. “It was like a giant grabbed our room and shook it.”
“There was a state of panic,” Benitez added.
Dr. Sindia Alvarado, who lives in the coastal town of Peñuelas, said she and her family woke up in terror when the first quake began.
“My entire family woke up screaming,” she said, according to NBC. “I thought the house was going to crack in half.”
The AP reported last week that the island was experiencing rare seismic activity, with a 4.5 magnitude quake striking on Jan. 2. The activity began on Dec. 28 with a 4.7-magnitude quake followed by another measuring 5.1.
“I’ve spent 29 years with Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, and it’s the first time I observe this kind of activity,” group director Víctor Huérfano told the AP at the time. “There’s no way to predict when it’s going to end, or if it’s going to lead to a major event.”
More than a thousand quakes, most of them too small to feel, have occurred in the area since the activity began.
“This is one of the strongest quakes to date since it started shaking on December 28,” Angel Vazquez, emergency management director for the city of Ponce, told the AP of the quakes that occurred Monday morning. “It lasted a long time.”
No tsunami warnings were issued after the quakes.
As noted by USA Today, Puerto Rico was hit by a massive 7.3 magnitude earthquake in October 1918 that sparked a tsunami and killed 116 people.