(Vanessa Serra Díaz)

Ponce - A new earthquake shook Puerto Ricans early yesterday morning and left 50 families in the Cooper View, Silver Valley, and Golden View communities in Ponce without a safe roof. Authorities were trying to place them in hotels due to movement restrictions and the lockout imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19, a disease that has caused havoc on the planet.

Puerto Rico´s Seismic Network adjusted the magnitude of the earthquake on several occasions until it finally calculated the magnitude at 5.4. Initially, it was reported to be 5.2. No warning or tsunami warning was issued for the island. The earthquake was felt at 7:13 a.m.

The Seismic Network Director Victor Huérfano explained to El Nuevo Día that the epicenter of the earthquake was the south-southeast of Guánica and was 20 miles deep. He said it was a new aftershock of the seismic activity that Puerto Ricans have been feeling since December, especially those living in the southwest, and anticipated that the fault line would be activated by the earthquake.

The damage seemed to concentrate in Ponce. In the urban area, 29 structures reported damage, including the one that houses the Ponce Massacre Museum.

The maximum intensity estimated was VII in Ponce, Huérfano said. In just four hours, the Network recorded 10 aftershocks, ranging from 3.0 to 4.6 magnitude.

The situation prompted politicians, agency heads and Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced to go to Ponce to assess the damage and help coordinate the emergency response.

Initially, the mayor of Ponce, María Meléndez Altieri, and Health secretary health Lorenzo González indicated separately that the families affected by the earthquake would be located in hotels, as was done with the victims of the January earthquakes when the shelters were closed. But before relocation, these citizens will be subjected to screening to ensure that they are not infected with COVID-19.

The governor, who first said they were evaluating several relocation alternatives, then confirmed the families affected would go to hotels.

"The agencies are here to assist. Stay in your homes. Channel that aid through Emergency Management. We don't want citizens on the streets," she said.

Several neighbors admitted that they are terrified since, in addition to dealing with the seismic events, they do not know what will happen to them, especially because of the new restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Lucy González said that the earthquake was so intense that she almost had to leave her house through a window because the earthquake dislodged the door and she could not open it. "My husband tried to break the window to see if we could get out, but we couldn't either until a neighbor started banging on the door and we could get out," said González, who was also with her granddaughter at the time of the earthquake.

"Since the last earthquakes, I didn't want to be in the house anymore, fearing something would happen to me or my granddaughters, and we set up a tent on the sidewalk, but the Housing Department came and removed it, tore it down and then this happened," lamented the woman, assuring that she will sleep outdoors until they go to a safe place.

Janett Lotti, who lives on the third floor in the Silver Valley housing project, said the information is that they will be "relocated while the building is stabilized, but they don't know how they are going to relocate us and where... they didn't say that.”

"I was quite surprised that the governor came, that Housing came, because no one had come here since the January earthquakes, and it was people from churches who came to help us. Just today (yesterday), an engineer told us that he came in January to evaluate the apartments and he declared them uninhabitable and we are still here and have been offered no help," she said.

After the 7:13 a.m. earthquake, several communities lost power because the EcoElectrica cogeneration plant in Peñuelas went out of operation. However, by 7:52 a.m., the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) reported there would be no further blackouts.

PREPA director José Ortiz, meanwhile, said the earthquake caused further damage to the Costa Sur power plant in Guayanilla, which has been inoperative since the January 7 earthquake.

Ortiz said the damage is minor. Specifically, a wall in the control console room of units #5 and #6 of the thermoelectric plant collapsed and a column that supports a crane used to move equipment in the plant was also affected.

Reporters Ricardo Cortés Chico and Gerardo E. Alvarado León collaborated with this story.

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