by Jose Alvara­do Vega

A mod­er­ate earth­quake struck Puer­to Rico ear­ly Sun­day morn­ing, dam­ag­ing build­ings and rous­ing res­i­dents from their sleep through­out the island. No injuries were reported.

The 5.8 mag­ni­tude earth­quake, which struck at about 1:16 a.m., was cen­tered four miles north­east of the Moca inland com­mu­ni­ty of Espino — lat­i­tude 18.4 north, lon­gi­tude 67.07 west — at a depth of about 67 miles, accord­ing to the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey. It was felt as far west as the Domini­can Repub­lic and as far east as the U.S. Vir­gin Islands.

Christi­na von Hille­brandt-Andrade, direc­tor of the Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion’s Caribbean Tsuna­mi Warn­ing Pro­gram, said that there was no dan­ger of a tsuna­mi since the earth­quake occurred on land and had a mag­ni­tude of less than 6.5 on the Richter scale. How­ev­er, “many res­i­dents” on the Mayagüez coast fled to high­er ground fear­ing the worst, she said.

The quake cracked the walls, ceil­ings and foun­da­tions of homes and office build­ings in the munic­i­pal­i­ties of Flori­da, Lares, Moca, Utu­a­do, Yau­co, Aguadil­la, Jayuya, Ponce and Vega Baja, State Emer­gency Man­age­ment and Dis­as­ter Admin­is­tra­tion Agency Herib­er­to Saurí said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence lat­er in the day.
The quake spilled rocks over a high­way in Utu­a­do, where it also shift­ed a con­crete house some four inch­es from its foun­da­tions. The sin­gle bed-rid­den res­i­dent of this home was removed as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure, Saurí said.
In Ponce, the bal­cony of a house on Third Street in Bar­ri­a­da Clausell collapsed.

Engi­neers were try­ing to deter­mine if oth­er dam­aged homes were safe, Saurí said.

Due to the nature of seis­mic waves, the earth­quake was felt more strong­ly by peo­ple liv­ing on land-filled grounds, in high­er ele­va­tions and in high-rise build­ings, Hille­brandt-Andrade, who also head­ed the Puer­to Rico Seis­mic Net­work, said dur­ing the press conference.

In fact, res­i­dents of the San Juan metro area, about 65 miles from the earth­quake epi­cen­ter, were fright­ened by the strong shak­ing. Peo­ple who felt the earth­quake told the Dai­ly Sun that they first felt a slight sway­ing that grew into heav­ier trem­bling that last­ed about a minute.

Many said that they had not felt such a strong earth­quake in years, if ever, and expressed fear giv­en the Jan­u­ary 12 earth­quake in the neigh­bor­ing Caribbean nation of Haiti killed more than 200 thou­sand people.
Car­oli­na Munic­i­pal Police report­ed that 30 res­i­dents, includ­ing chil­dren, of the Tor­res de Sabana pub­lic hous­ing com­plex evac­u­at­ed their apart­ments and feared return­ing to their homes because they heard on the radio that an earth­quake of greater mag­ni­tude could fol­low. The res­i­dents, gath­ered at the park­ing lot of an auto­mo­bile prod­ucts estab­lish­ment, were not moved by the clar­i­fi­ca­tion made by Car­oli­na Emer­gency Man­age­ment Offi­cial Juan Morales, who said that no such warn­ings had been issued.

Vanes­sa Tor­res, 39, a res­i­dent of the San­ta María sub­di­vi­sion of Río Piedras, woke up ear­ly Sat­ur­day morn­ing to find her bed shaking.

“My hus­band asked why I was mov­ing the bed, and I told him I wasn’t,” said Tor­res, who added that they both jumped out of bed to check on their two daugh­ters in an adja­cent room. She said her 13-year-old daugh­ter was fright­ened, although her 10-year-old daugh­ter was fast asleep.

When asked if she thought her fam­i­ly was pre­pared for a greater earth­quake, Tor­res said that she did not know how to answer that.

“I’m not sure there is some­thing you can do that could make a dif­fer­ence in this type of sit­u­a­tion,” she said.
A Dai­ly Sun edi­tor liv­ing on the 10th floor of a con­do­mini­um in Con­da­do said she felt the earthquake.
“We were in our kitchen talk­ing, and all of a sud­den I felt the coun­ter­top move and the floor began to sway. It last­ed about five sec­onds. I felt some slight move­ment after­ward, and then they fad­ed away,” Dai­ly Sun staffer, Rosario Fajar­do said.

Eduar­do Grau, 54, a res­i­dent of Bar­rio Monacil­los in Rio Piedras, said he was awak­ened by the quake and was ini­tial­ly “a lit­tle intim­i­dat­ed” when he saw the framed pic­tures slam­ming against the wall.
“I turned the light on and real­ized what was hap­pen­ing, but then I thought to myself, ‘This is a wood­en house and it’s secure. It’s not a cement struc­ture that can cede,’” said Grau, who went back to sleep as soon as it was over. He said he had “nev­er felt an earth­quake like this.”

Lydia Pabón, a res­i­dent of the Vista Her­mosa pub­lic hous­ing com­plex in Río Piedras, said she was watch­ing tele­vi­sion in her liv­ing room when she felt the futon in which she was sit­ting shake. She quick­ly looked out from her bal­cony to see the con­crete light poles swaying.

“I have felt tremors before, but noth­ing like this,” said Pabón, who not­ed that the shak­ing last­ed sev­er­al min­utes. Her 14-year-old son, who was at a birth­day par­ty sev­er­al floors below, called her to say he was scared, she said.
Oth­er res­i­dents in San Juan Sun­day said they were in oth­er parts of the island when they felt the quake.
Mer­cedes Lugo, 48, a store win­dow design­er from Río Piedras, said she was at a relative’s apart­ment in the east­ern munic­i­pal­i­ty of Cei­ba. She was sleep­ing on the sofa, when she was roused by the shak­ing of the tele­vi­sion and oth­er objects nearby.

“There was this door that seemed to want to crash in,” she said.

Cristine Pérez, 27, a billing employ­ee from San Juan, was stay­ing with rel­a­tives in Moca, just miles from the epi­cen­ter. She ini­tial­ly felt a slight shak­ing that grew stronger and shook pic­ture frames out of their place, she said, adding the house suf­fered no damages.

Grizelle Rubil­do, 46, a home­mak­er from the Sul­tana sub­di­vi­sion of Mayagüez who was vis­it­ing her moth­er in San Juan on Sun­day, said that while she is used to quakes that have roused her fam­i­ly from bed, the Sun­day morn­ing earth­quake was the strongest she and her fam­i­ly have ever felt in 20 years liv­ing there.
She first heard a roar, as if an 18-wheel truck had raced past her two-sto­ry house, and then felt the shak­ing, send­ing dec­o­ra­tive glass plates on a near­by desk crash­ing to the floor, she said. The house was not dam­aged, although she said that tremors over the past 15 years have grad­u­al­ly cracked the house’s walls and the con­crete divid­ing wall.

“We had felt a sim­i­lar quake in Feb­ru­ary of this year, but it was not even close to this one,” she said. “We all left the house and went into the street think­ing a stronger quake would occur.”
Her daugh­ter, Alexan­dra, 15, who was shop­ping with her at a Río Piedras shop­ping cen­ter, said she was just going to bed when she felt a slight rock­ing that grew into strong shak­ing. Her father came in to get her, she said.
Rubil­do said the expe­ri­ence showed they were not pre­pared for the con­se­quences of a major earthquake.

“We have to plan for this, and I’m going to get back­packs for each of fam­i­ly mem­ber and fill it with cloth­ing, water and a first aid kit,” she said, adding their home was built to with­stand an earth­quake by allow­ing it to sway.
The earth­quake is a wake-up call that time is run­ning out to pre­pare an ade­quate earth­quake mit­i­ga­tion plan for the island, Puer­to Rico Engi­neers and Sur­vey­ors Asso­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Miguel Tor­res Díaz said Sunday.
While for­mal con­struc­tion is designed to avoid col­lapse, the trade group is wor­ried about hous­es built on con­crete stilts with­out the required per­mits and design plans that com­ply with the build­ing code, he said.

“These struc­tures on stilts could endan­ger the safe­ty of its res­i­dents because they would not remain stand­ing in the event of a strong earth­quake,” he said, adding the trade group is prepar­ing a mass edu­ca­tion project on the matter.

He urged the pub­lic to con­sult the organization’s earth­quake and tsuna­mi man­u­al on its Web­site: www.ciapr.org. The group is also work­ing on amend­ments to the island’s build­ing code to rein­force stan­dards for new and exist­ing struc­tures, and which should be ready by the end of the year.

New Pro­gres­sive Par­ty Sen. Luis Daniel Muñiz, who lives in Moca, said in a press release that pri­or­i­ty must be giv­en to earth­quake pre­pared­ness and drills must be done to make the pub­lic aware of the poten­tial dan­ger to lives and property.

“We’re experts in man­ag­ing hur­ri­canes, but we are in dia­pers when an earth­quake occurs, or worst yet, a tsuna­mi,” said Muñiz, who not­ed that he was at his home when Sunday’s earth­quake occurred. “It felt like the world was crash­ing down on us. Every­thing we had on the wall fell to the floor, and we got dizzy because the shak­ing was so strong.”


Post Card of the dam­aged caused by the 1918 earth­quake to the “La Habanera de Infanzón y Rodríguez” fac­to­ry in Mayagüez, Puer­to Rico

The strongest earthquakes to have struck Puerto Rico

  • The strongest earth­quake to have affect­ed the island occurred on May 2, 1787 and may have reached 8.0 on the Richter scale, and may have been cen­tered to the north in the Puer­to Rico Trench. It destroyed the Areci­bo Catholic Church along with the Rosario and Con­cep­ción her­mitages, and dam­aged church­es in Bayamón, Toa Baja and Mayagüez. It also dam­aged the Span­ish mil­i­tary for­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem in San Juan, crack­ing walls, cis­terns and guard hous­es at the San Felipe and San Cristo­bal fortresses.
  • The most recent major earth­quake to have struck occurred on Oct. 11, 1918 and was cen­tered under the Mona Chan­nel, to the north­west of Aguadil­la. It was mea­sured at 7.5 on the Richter scale and was accom­pa­nied by a tsuna­mi that reached a height of six feet when it reached the Aguadil­la coast, killing 40 peo­ple. The earth­quake itself killed 116 peo­ple in Mayagüez and along the west­ern coast, where it destroyed or severe­ly dam­aged homes, fac­to­ries, pub­lic build­ings and bridges.
  • On Nov. 18, 1867, just 20 days after the island was dev­as­tat­ed by Hur­ri­cane San Nar­ciso, it was struck by a 7.5‑magnitude earth­quake cen­tered off the south­east coast, between Puer­to Rico and St. Croix, which cre­at­ed a tsuna­mi that reached almost 500 feet into the Yabo­coa coast, and dam­ag­ing build­ings on the island’s east coast.