Two firemen survey a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Puerto Rico, on January 7 2020. Picture: AFP/RICARDO ARDUENGO
Two firemen survey a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Puerto Rico, on January 7 2020. Picture: AFP/RICARDO ARDUENGO

San Juan — Puerto Rico’s power grid crept back to service on Wednesday after it was shut down entirely as a safety measure on Tuesday amid a storm of earthquakes, including the most powerful to strike the Caribbean island in 102 years.

The tremblors, including one of magnitude 6.4, killed at least one person and flattened homes across the southern coast, provoking a state of emergency on the island of 3-million people and the activation of the National Guard.

Nearly 500,000 customers had service on Wednesday morning, up from 100,000 the night before, and the island was generating about 542MW of electricity, the power authority AEE said, still short of the demand of some 2,000MW.

The large Costa Sur plant suffered severe damage and remained out of service, though governor Wanda Vázquez said on Tuesday that power should be restored to most of the island within 48 hours, provided there are no more earthquakes.

Puerto Ricans endured lengthy power outages in 2017 following devastating Hurricane Maria, one of a series of natural and man-made disasters to afflict the US territory in recent years. The island is also going through bankruptcy and its former governor resigned amid a political scandal and massive street protests last year.

Vázquez ordered schools and other public offices closed while emergency responders searched crumbled buildings for possible victims and engineers inspected others for safety.

Some Puerto Ricans in the hard-hit south of the island moved beds outside on Tuesday night and slept outdoors, fearful their homes would crumble if another earthquake hit, Vázquez said.

Hundreds of quakes have touched the island, including 10 of magnitude four or greater, since December 28, the US Geological Survey said.

About 750 people spent the night in shelters in southern towns hit hardest, the government reported. Bottled water, batteries and torches ran low at supermarkets in the capital San Juan and long lines formed outside petrol stations. Back-up generators kept the city’s international airport functioning.

Puerto Ricans are used to dealing with hurricanes but powerful quakes are rare. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, this is the first time this has happened to us,” said Patricia Alonso, who lost power and water at her home and headed to her mother’s apartment building with her 13-year-old son, as it had a generator.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Tuesday that aid had been made available for earthquake response efforts.