More than 1,280 earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico’s southern region since Dec. 28, 2019, officials told The Associated Press Wednesday. More than 20 of them were a 4.5 magnitude or greater, including a 6.4 magnitude tremor that struck on Jan. 7 and did widespread damage across the island. On Saturday, a 5.9 magnitude aftershock hit and caused even more damage.
During the quakes, about $110 million in damage has been done, and a famous rock formation landmark was totally destroyed. More than 500 homes have also been destroyed, AP reported.
In a forecast bulletin on Tuesday, the USGS said there are several scenarios for the seismic activity that is sure to hit.
“The most likely scenario is that aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency over the next 30 days and will be significantly lower in magnitude than the M6.4 that occurred on the 7 January 2020 (i.e., will be less than M6.0). Some of these moderately sized aftershocks (M5.0+) may cause localized damage, particularly in weak structures. Smaller magnitude earthquakes (M3.0+), when at shallow depth, may be felt by people close to the epicenters,” the agency said, adding that there is a 79 percent chance of this happening within the next month.
“A less likely scenario is an earthquake occurring of similar size as the M6.4 event. This is called a ‘doublet’: when two large earthquakes of similar size occur closely in time and location. This earthquake could cause additional damage in the same region and increases the number of aftershocks,” it said, adding that there is an 18 percent chance of this occurring in the same time frame.
The USGS also warned that a larger earthquake—perhaps one of 7.0 or greater on the Richter Scale—will hit in the next 30 days. There is a 3 percent chance of this occurring, it said.
“While this is a very small probability, if such an earthquake were to occur, it would have serious impacts on communities nearby. This size earthquake would also trigger its own aftershock sequence, so the rate of small and moderate earthquakes would increase again,” said the USGS.
President Donald Trump last week signed an emergency declaration to coordinate relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth.
Trump “ordered federal assistance to supplement Commonwealth and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from earthquakes beginning” on Dec. 28, the White House said in a statement at the time.
The new declaration from Trump “authorizes the Department of Homeland Security [and the] Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures,” it read.