June 11, 2021

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Recent seismic activity in northern Puerto Rico is classified as normal

The recent earthquake activity registered in the northeast of Puerto Rico is nothing out of the ordinary for the region in which we live and, far from being alarmed or paying attention to unscientific information that may be circulating on social media, people should always be as well prepared as possible to face an earthquake of great intensity that cannot be known when it might occur.

That is the recommendation of two experts on the seismic issue, who reiterated time and again the importance of preparation at the personal, family, workplace and even municipal and government levels.

“The first thing is that, in seismic issues, there is no way to anticipate the future. There is no equipment, there is no method, there is no technology that says exactly if those events in the Sombrero Zone, that that area north of the Virgin Islands, could be the harbinger of a bigger event, ”commented Víctor Huérfano, director of the Puerto Rico Seismic Network of the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.

“But these events are not strange, they are not something abnormal or different, unlike the sequence that occurred (last year) in the Southwest that was completely out of any expectation,” added Huérfano.

In fact, he added, swarms of earthquakes like the one that has been occurring in the past few days in the Sombrero Zone, without a predominant event, have already occurred in that area before and are repeated almost every year.

He reiterated, however, that “it cannot be predicted” if this swarm could be a precursor to some major event.

“The natural thing in the geographic region where we are is for earthquakes to occur. Strong earthquakes have occurred in the past and they will occur again. In Puerto Rico there have been more powerful earthquakes than the one that occurred in Guánica (last year) and those events greater than (magnitude) 7 are the ones that can cause significant damage, ”concurred geomorphologist José Molinelly Freytes.

“Normally, as it is normal that we expect hurricanes, it is normal for there to be seismic activity as well. Most (earthquakes) are smaller in magnitude, but you have to be prepared for when a bigger one occurs, also in places where they were not expected to occur, ”he added.

“Never panic. But you have to be prepared for the worst event. People cannot let their guard down. And that is why it can happen anywhere, because you have to be prepared for the worst event, “he reiterated, also calling for” correct information, from professionals, and not get carried away by rumors on social networks. “

Orphan explained that Puerto Rico is in a kind of sandwich in the middle of the movement of two tectonic plates. “We have the Puerto Rico Trench, which is the main fault. The other failures respond to that interaction there. There is the North American plate getting under Puerto Rico and trying to push. And to the south we have the Trench of the Dead, where the Caribbean plate goes under Puerto Rico ”.

“So it is always moving, the plates follow its movement and will follow it for the next thousands and millions of years. The problem is when a rock is put in, a huge rock, and the movement does not hold any more and all that energy is released and produces all that movement. A lot of energy is released ”, explained orphan.

“The island is not going to disappear from the map. There may be strong tremors, tidal waves, there may be a lot of damage, but the island is not going to disappear. This land is solid and firm, and it is not going to sink. It has trembled through hundreds of millions of years, and it is still there. Everything is part of the evolutionary processes of the planet from its origin and will continue ”, reaffirmed Molinelli.

“The recommendation for people remains the same. You cannot let your guard down. The best thing is to have a family plan, to be prepared. Have the eviction maps if you are in a coastal municipality, review them, understand them. In the event of an event, know which places are safe in your home, so that nothing that could harm you falls, ”said Huérfano.

“It is not known at what moment it can happen. So you have to be prepared, and that is at the family level, also at the office, at the work level, Emergency Management ”, insisted the director of the Seismic Network, remembering that“ you do not prepare for an earthquake of a day for another “, and mentioning the examples of Chile and Japan, which” has a millenary culture thinking about seismic and tsunami problems. “

“You must be prepared to protect your family. You cannot be waiting for an Emergency Management officer who may not be able to reach you right away. You must have your emergency backpack, with your water, a bottle of water for your children, at least a change of clothes, non-perishable food, a flashlight, the battery radio, everything essential for a situation like this, “he described. .

“We already had to live the event last year. So follow the official information and be as prepared as possible. And it cannot be forgotten that we also have the pandemic that is with us, and that the hurricane season is here, ”said Huérfano.

Molinelli agreed on the importance of adequate preparation and recalled what happened after Hurricane María, when many communities were cut off and government agencies were unable to bring aid to those places until weeks later.

“The natural thing is that we have to be prepared for the biggest event. And Maria taught us that at the end of the day we have to prepare at the level of the communities, of the people. The government, the municipalities collapsed, and the people had to help each other, ”said the geomorphologist.

He added that a strong earthquake could cause the scenario of several buildings being destroyed and the reliefs in those scenarios consume most of the resources of rescue personnel.

“Right now, we are very vulnerable to lack of electricity, lack of water, lack of access to card payment systems. And all these scenarios must be anticipated and have a plan for how the family is going to function, ”he insisted. “And combined disasters can occur, an earthquake after several days of rain with saturated land, with many landslides that leave communities cut off.”

Molinelli added that, as a country, we must go further and have and execute “a national strategic plan to address seismic vulnerability.”

“That national plan is needed, to address the houses with tall columns of unequal length, the houses on the coast exposed to tsunamis, to see how to get out of high-risk areas. Here there is old infrastructure that is deteriorating and would not hold, buildings that have been exposed to the sea for 60 years and no longer have the integrity to withstand a strong earthquake. Citizens do not have a system to know if buildings have earthquake safety, if the supermarket they go to has resistance, what is the level of that resistance, if it is medium, low, for you to know and make decisions, “explained the geomorphologist , while condemning that the Planning Board and the Permit Management Office continue to give permits to build in high-risk areas.

“And you also have to see all this in the context of climate change, rising sea levels, erosion of the coasts. The sea will enter places that it did not enter, the rivers will not be able to flow and more places will be flooded, “he warned.

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