Very strong and shallow M6.4 earthquake hits Puerto Rico — power outages, widespread damage reported


A very strong and shallow earthquake registered by the USGS as M6.4 (downgraded from M6.5) hit southern Puerto Rico at 08:24 UTC (04:24 local time) on January 7, 2020. The agency is reporting a depth of 6.7 km (4.1 miles). EMSC is reporting M6.5 at a depth of 10 km (6.5 miles). This is by far the strongest earthquake in an intense swarm shaking this area since December 29, 2019. To learn more about the swarm, visit Intense earthquake swarm shaking southern Puerto Rico.

The epicenter of today's M6.5 was located 6.8 km (4.2 miles) SSE of Tallaboa (population 1 739), 9.6 km (6.0 miles) SE of Guayanilla (population 5 213), 15.3 km (9.5 miles) SE of Yauco (population 20 295), 21.1 km (13.1 miles) WSW of Ponce (population 152 634), and 30.2 km (18.7 miles) ESE of San German (population 12 055), Puerto Rico.

There are 3 350 000 people living within 100 km (62 miles).

131 000 people are estimated to have felt very strong shaking, 265 000 strong, 1 714 000 moderate and 1 153 000 light.

The USGS issued a yellow alert for shaking-related fatalities. Some casualties are possible

An orange alert was issued for economic losses. Significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread. Estimated economic losses are 0-1% GDP of Puerto Rico. Past events with this alert level have required a regional or national level response.

Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake-resistant construction. The predominant vulnerable building types are mud wall and informal (metal, timber, GI etc.) construction.

Earthquake swarm in southern Puerto Rico, including M6.5 on January 7, 2020. Credit: Google, TW/SAM

Power outages were reported across the island, some reports mention the entire island without power at one point. In addition, close to 300 000 of the island's 1.1 million customers were without water after the quake.

At least 1 person was killed and 8 others injured in the city of Ponce.

As expected, the quake caused much more damage than yesterday's M5.8.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency and activated the Puerto Rico National Guard.

While we wait for new information, it's good to remind that this region was hit by a damaging M5.8 earthquake on January 6, 2020, 13 km (8 miles) SSE of Indios.

Power outages were reported in some parts of the territory as well as considerable damage to homes and other structures.

Some roads were temporarily closed along the southern coast after small landslides hit the area.

AP quoted one of the residents saying her entire family woke up screaming. "I thought the house was going to crack in half," she said.

Ángel Vázquez, emergency management director for the southern coastal town of Ponce said the quake lasted a long time.

Estimated population exposure to earthquake shaking

Selected cities exposed

Regional seismicity

Featured image credit: Google, TW/SAM

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