Puerto Rico has been hit by a magnitude-5.8 earthquake that unleashed landslides, damaged homes and led to the collapse of a popular natural rock formation on the Caribbean island.
- More than 30 houses were heavily damaged by the earthquake
- Large boulders blocked the the only highway heading north to the capital of San Juan
- The director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network said bigger quakes could occur
The stone arch known as Punta Ventana in the south-west town of Guyanilla was destroyed when the strong earthquake hit on Monday (local time).
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
It was the largest in a series of quakes that have struck the area over the past two weeks.
The first quake struck at 6:32am just south of the island at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometres, according to the US Geological Survey.
In the southern town of Guanica, Mayor Santos Seda said five homes had collapsed.
@AntonioParis Puerto Rican natural wonder, Punta Ventana, collapses amid 5.8 magnitude earthquake
He said another 29 homes were heavily damaged and about to collapse.
@UPRMetLab [GUAYANILLA] Desaparece la ventana natural en Punta Ventana, Guayanilla.
The emergency management director for the southern coastal city of Ponce, Angel Vazquez, said power outages were reported in some parts of Puerto Rico following the quake.
“This is one of the strongest quakes to date since it started shaking on December 28,” he said.
“It lasted a long time.”
Residents in southern coastal towns began posting pictures of partially collapsed homes and large boulders blocking roads on social media as officials urged people to remain calm.
Dr Sindia Alvarado, who lives in the southern coastal town of Penuelas, said she was petrified.
“My entire family woke up screaming,” she said.
“I thought the house was going to crack in half.”
At a hotel in Guanica, people panicked as they tried to flee in their cars, only to realise that large boulders were obstructing the only highway heading north to the capital San Juan, lawyer Jose Francisco Benitez said.
“There was a state of panic,” he said.
The flurry of quakes in Puerto Rico’s southern region began the night of December 28, with quakes ranging in magnitude from 4.7 to 5.1.
Previous quakes of lesser magnitudes in recent days have cracked homes and led to goods falling off supermarket shelves.
Victor Huerfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, said that shallow quakes were occurring along three faults in Puerto Rico’s south-west region: Lajas Valley, Montalva Point and the Guayanilla Canyon.
He said the quakes come as the North American plate and the Caribbean plate squeeze Puerto Rico, and that it was unclear when they would stop or if bigger quakes would occur.
Puerto Rico does not have a public earthquake warning system, except for sirens that are supposed to ring in case of a tsunami.
Residents criticised the Government for what they believe is a lack of action.
One of the largest and most damaging earthquakes to hit Puerto Rico occurred in October 1918, when a magnitude-7.3 quake struck near the island’s north-west coast, unleashing a tsunami and killing 116 people.