GUAYANILLA, Puerto Rico — A large 6.4-magnitude earthquake occurred near Ponce, Puerto Rico, at 4:24 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time (3:24 a.m. EST) on Tuesday, causing widespread damage throughout the island. Wanda Vásquez, Puerto Rico’s governor, declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.
Several strong aftershocks followed the initial quake, resulting in collapsed buildings, one death and at least eight injured people. There are reports of widespread power outages, and some 300,000 households remain without running water, according to the governor. Residents in the south of the island have been terrified to go into their homes for fear that another quake will bring buildings down.
In the historic district of Ponce, authorities evacuated more than 150 people from two buildings they said were in danger of collapsing. Among them were more than two dozen elderly patients from a nursing home who sat in their wheelchairs in silence as the earth continued to tremble.
In a tweet, Judd Deere, White House deputy press secretary, said, “[President Trump] has been briefed on the earthquakes that Puerto Rico has experienced over the past month, including the earthquake early this morning.”
“Administration officials, including FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, have been in touch with the Governor and her team today, and we will continue to monitor the effects and coordinate with Puerto Rico officials,” Deere said.
There are several U.S. military installations in Puerto Rico, including National Guard Camp Santiago Joint Training Center, Muñiz Air National Guard Base and Punta Salinas Air Guard Station.
“We have helicopters and personnel ready to fly and evacuate people if necessary," said Lt. Col. Paul Dahlen, spokesman for the National Guard in Puerto Rico. “We have cargo vehicles that we have used in [Hurricane] Maria to move people from their homes if it’s necessary."
The National Guard will direct resources in the southern area of Puerto Rico for emergency relief efforts after meeting with the governor. “We have identified engineers who can inspect bridges around the island to verify their safety,” Dahlen added.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “over the past several weeks, hundreds of small earthquakes have occurred in this same region,” which sits above three faults. On Jan. 6, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake destroyed five homes in Guánica and heavily damaged dozens of others. Additional aftershocks are expected.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Dylan Gresik is a reporting intern for Military Times through Northwestern University's Journalism Residency program.