Puerto Rico slow to bring back electricity after powerful earthquake

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Two-thirds of Puerto Rico remained without power and nearly a quarter lacked drinking water on Wednesday after a storm of earthquakes battered the Caribbean island on Tuesday, including the most powerful to strike the U.S. territory in 102 years.

The temblors, including one of magnitude 6.4, killed at least one person and destroyed or damaged some 300 homes, provoking a state of emergency on the island of 3 million people and the activation of the National Guard.

Nearly 500,000 of the island’s 1.5 million customers had electricity on Wednesday, up from 100,000 on Tuesday night, and the island was generating about 542 megawatts of electricity, the power authority AEE said, well short of the demand of some 2,000 megawatts.

The number of people left in the dark changed little from daybreak to midday, said Carlos Acevedo, commissioner of the disaster administration NMEAD.

The power outages evoked memories of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, when Puerto Ricans endured lengthy blackouts following a disaster that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Meanwhile, around 24% of the population had no running water and more than 2,200 people left homeless had taken refuge in government shelters, Acevedo said.

Many more Puerto Ricans spent the night outdoors, fearful their homes would crumble if another earthquake hit.

Acevedo had yet to estimate monetary damages but said they would exceed the $10 million minimum needed to qualify for aid from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared an emergency in Puerto Rico and authorized FEMA to coordinate disaster relief with Puerto Rican officials, the White House said in a statement.

While long lines of cars queued up for fuel, officials fanned out across the southwestern corner of the island to assess the damage.

More than 500 earthquakes occurred near that area between Dec. 28 and Tuesday, including 32 greater than magnitude 4, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

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The 6.4 magnitude quake on Tuesday morning was the most powerful to hit Puerto Rico since 1918, when a 7.3 magnitude quake and tsunami killed 116 people, according to the Puerto Rican seismology institute Red Sismica.

Puerto Rico is accustomed to hurricanes, but powerful quakes are rare.

The earthquakes follow a series of natural and man-made disasters to afflict the U.S. 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.

Reporting by Luis Valentin Ortiz and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, David Gregorio and Richard Chang

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