SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBS/AP) — California is sending 31 disaster specialists to Puerto Rico after a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the island’s southern coast on Saturday, the latest in a series of quakes over the past week that have toppled homes and schools and left more than 4,000 people in shelters.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the deployment comes in response to the Puerto Rican government’s request for assistance.
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services says in a statement that the team will depart from Sacramento on Sunday and will spend 16 days working with emergency management and public safety officials there. The group consists of experts in incident and emergency management, engineering and safety assessment, planning, public information, debris management and crisis counseling.
Earlier this week, Newsom approved the deployment of four firefighters to assist with search and rescue operations.
“California stands with the people of Puerto Rico,” Gov. Newsom said in a statement. “Our nation-sized state knows first-hand the devastating toll of natural disasters and we will provide aid and support as our brothers and sisters rebuild and recover.”
Most of the California team will leave from Sacramento Sunday morning, the governor’s office said in the statement. Read Full Statement (PDF).
The ground in southwest Puerto Rico has been shaking since Dec. 28, with more than 1,100 earthquakes, of which more than 100 were felt and more than 66 were of magnitude 3.5 or greater. Saturday’s quake occurred four days after a 6.4 magnitude quake in the same area.
Gov. Wanda Vazquez estimated damage from Tuesday’s earthquake at $110 million, with a total of 559 structures affected. She said her administration was immediately releasing $2 million to six of the most affected municipalities.
As a result of Saturday’s quake, Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority said outages were reported across much of southern Puerto Rico and crews were assessing possible damage at power plants. Officials said they also were going back to reassess all structures previously inspected, given the strength of Saturday’s quake.
Deputy Mayor Elizabeth Ocasio in the southern coastal city of Ponce told The Associated Press that officials closed the city’s downtown area and two other nearby areas because of weakened infrastructure.
“One building completely collapsed,” she said. “There is a lot of historic infrastructure in Ponce.”
Bárbara Cruz, a prosecutor who was in Ponce when the new quake hit, said concrete debris hit the sidewalk as buildings continued to crumble.
“Everyone is out on the street,” she said.
More landslides and damaged homes were reported, along with severe cracks on a bridge in the southwest coastal town of Guanica.
The quake, which initially had been calculated at magnitude 6.0, was the strongest shake since Tuesday’s magnitude 6.4 quake — the most potent to hit the island in a century. That temblor killed one person, injured nine others and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and several schools and businesses in the island’s southwest region.
More than 4,000 people have been staying in shelters, many fearful of returning to their homes, and others unable to because of extensive damage.
The director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, ordered the temporary closure of the company’s largest plant, which crews had been inspecting for damage caused by earlier quakes.
The ground in southwest Puerto Rico has been shaking since Dec. 28, with more than 1,100 earthquakes, of which more than 100 were felt and more than 66 were of magnitude 3.5 or greater.
NASA reported Friday that the quakes had moved the land in parts of southern Puerto Rico as much as 5.5 inches (14 centimeters), based on satellite images before and after the temblors.
Víctor Huérfano, director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, told the AP that he expects still more aftershocks as a result of the latest large one.
“It’s going to re-energize an unstable situation,” he said, adding that seismologists are studying which faults were activated. “It’s a complex zone.”
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