Conservation & Preservation

Puerto Rico prepares to assess toll of powerful earthquakes

A colonial-era church collapses and more damage to historic buildings is expected

The Immaculate Concepcion Catholic church lies in ruins after an overnight earthquake in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday AP Photo/Carlos Giusti

A historic 19th-century church in the Puerto Rican town of Guayanilla was among the many buildings that collapsed when powerful earthquakes rocked the island on Monday and today. People also fled from their collapsing homes, and at least one person was reported dead.

Pablo Ojeda O’Neill, the director of the Historic Preservation Department and Program at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, says that most of the damage from the quakes was concentrated in the southwestern section of the island, where there are two important declared historic districts, Ponce and San Germán, as well as several additional listed buildings.

A 6.4-magnitude quake early this morning triggered a widespread blackout on the island, making communications difficult, and a reliable toll of the damage was unavailable. Early reports indicated that damage to historic buildings ranged from minor cracks and the loss of architectural ornaments to the total collapse of historic buildings, Ojeda O'Neill says. Among them, he said, was the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Guayanilla, which he said dates from 1850.

“Starting tomorrow we are going to carry out specific inspection in the region to establish the extent of the damages and to quickly move to the mitigation and stabilisation stages," he adds.

A predawn 5.8-magnitude earthquake also struck Puerto Rico on Monday and leveled homes after a heavy week of tremors, and aftershocks continued after this morning’s quake. Hundreds of thousands of people were reported to be without water service as well as electricity.

The island is still struggling to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Maria in 2017, which plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian crisis.