Hartland church group in Puerto Rico rattled by earthquake

  • Locator map of 2nd earthquake off coast of Puerto Rico.

  • A Puerto Rican flag hangs within the rubble, after it was placed there where store owners and family help remove supplies from Ely Mer Mar hardware store, which partially collapsed after an earthquake struck Guanica, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn on Tuesday, killing one man, injuring others and collapsing buildings in the southern part of the island. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/7/2020 10:30:06 PM
Modified: 1/7/2020 10:29:33 PM

A Hartland church group on a humanitarian mission in Puerto Rico was rattled by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck the Caribbean island early Tuesday.

The temblor killed at least one man, knocked out power and collapsed buildings in the southern part of the island, though the church group was spared from much of the destruction.

“We were all awakened at 4:30 a.m. by our walls and windows shaking,” Sue D’Anna, a member of the First Congregational Church of Hartland, said via a Facebook message Tuesday. “Our side of the island has not seen damage, but the other side has seen significant destruction.”

The Hartland volunteers arrived in Puerto Rico on Sunday to help with relief efforts following Hurricane Maria — the September 2017 storm that devastated much of the island — and are in Luquillo, a coastal town on the northeast side of the island, about 30 miles from the capital of San Juan.

None of the 25 church volunteers — men and women ranging in age from 20 to 70 — were hurt in the initial quake Tuesday morning, church officials said.

Although the volunteers had initially hoped to continue their work, they were instructed by island officials to shelter in place for the rest of the day. Their work plans for the remainder of their week in Puerto Rico are now in jeopardy because of fears that there will be more quakes and because there is uncertainty about whether a church they had planned to renovate in San Juan is structurally safe.

“At this point, we are unclear about how the remainder of our week and work plans will unfold,” D’Anna said.

Several aftershocks from the earthquake were felt across the island on Tuesday, but the most intense tremors and damage occurred in Ponce, on the southern side of the island. The Hartland volunteers’ campsite did not sustain any physical damage, but it did lose power along with much of the island. However, they were able to rely on a backup power generator at their campsite later in the day, and spent time cleaning up their camp and the surrounding beaches.

The group also weathered a “brief tsunami” warning, they said via the church’s Facebook page.

“We quickly regrouped and are gassing up our vans (in line for 45 mins so far), grocery shopping with hope that there are supplies still in the shelves, doing trash pick up around camp and at town beach, and deep cleaning the camp facility.”

This is the second annual trip that the Hartland Churches United in Service has made to Puerto Rico since the island was hit by Hurricane Maria. On its last trip, the group was able to repair roofs, porches and small structures on the island, D’Anna said. This year’s group includes several former members of the Hartland Churches Youth Group, which was known for making yearly service trips to New Haven, Conn., in partnership with organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

The Hartland trip is being led by the Rev. Lucia Jackson, who currently has limited phone and email access from Puerto Rico. D’Anna said the Hartland volunteers are reaching out to their affiliate organization about how to proceed with earthquake relief assistance.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Rohan Chakravarty can be reached at rchakravarty@vnews.com.




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