ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, says small tremors continue on the island in the wake of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck the southwestern part of the island on January 7. A magnitude 5.8 quake struck a day earlier. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) reported widespread power outages after generating plants automatically activated protective shutdown systems following the earthquake. Resto told ARRL this week that considerable generating capacity was lost to earthquake damage, and that it will take at least several days before replacement units can be brought back on line. Only about 20% of the island has electric power at this point, he estimated on January 8.“We have a shortage of about 1,100 megawatts of power,” Resto told ARRL. “We normally need about 2,000 megawatts for the island.”
Resto cited the largely operational telecommunications network as the reason why no Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) activations have been necessary. “We have cellphones all over the island working,” he said. Resto told ARRL that he’s been working up a list of ready and resilient amateur radio volunteers who would be able to muster if needed to assist the American Red Cross, with which Puerto Rico ARES has a memorandum of understanding.
“We are in continuous communication with the ARC in case we’re needed,” he said. Resto stressed that he wants to avoid situations where volunteers activate only to be told they’re not needed. The worst-impacted cities were Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Yauco, and Guánica. Resto said engineers have determined that 80% of the houses in the earthquake’s impact zone are uninhabitable.
Puerto Rico Section Public Information Officer Angel Santana, WP3GW, told ARRL that VHF and UHF repeaters with emergency power have carried reports of power and water outages, continuing aftershocks, and other information on an informal basis. Bottled water and canned food have been in high demand, he said. Santana said the PREMA Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated.
Earlier this week, Resto called the situation “scary, with houses, schools, and roads collapsing.” At least one death has resulted from the earthquake. He said the earthquake disaster has definitely been a setback for the US territory as it continues its long recovery from severe hurricane damage in 2017. But, he added, the restored telecommunications infrastructure is more robust, to minimize damage in future disasters.