At least one person has died and one Catholic church was destroyed by the latest in a series of earthquakes to rock Puerto Rico.
A magnitude 6.4 quake shook people awake at 4.24 a.m. local time January 7 less than 24 hours after a magnitude 5.8 temblor shook the island in the predawn hours of January 6.
Catholic News Services said that aftershocks ranging in magnitude from 3.8 to 6 were felt throughout the island following the early morning temblor, as reported by the US Geological Survey.
The continuous shaking has taken a psychological toll, said Fr Enrique Camacho, executive director of Caritas of Puerto Rico, which is affiliated with Catholic Charities USA.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops offered “prayerful solidarity” to the people of Puerto Rico in a January 7, statement.
“The Church in the United States stands with you,” he said. “In our prayer, we recall in trust that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, offering Himself to us and calling us to Himself even in our darkest hour.”
He also noted that Puerto Rico continues to recover from extensive damage caused by two hurricanes in September 2017.
Meanwhile, charitable and aid agencies have begun collecting funds to assist in the emergency response and recovery. Catholic Charities USA established a donation page on its website, catholiccharitiesusa.org.
In addition, Catholic Extension is seeking donations to help with pastoral needs at its website catholicextension.org/relief.
“We stand in solidarity once again on the front lines offering our support and comfort to those enduring the terror and destruction of these earthquakes,” Fr Jack Wall, the agency’s president said in a statement.
CNS reported that the latest earthquake sent people scurrying from their homes into the streets from Ponce, the island’s second-largest city, westward along the island’s southern coast to the towns of Guayanilla, Guanica, Yauco and Lajas, all near the epicentre of the quakes.
Police in Ponce said a 73-year-old man died when a wall fell on him, reported El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper.
Immaculate Conception Church in Guayanilla was severely damaged, Mayor Nelson Torres Yordan told a local television station. Photos posted by El Nuevo Dia showed residents removing the church’s undamaged tabernacle to safety. Fr Camacho said the church had survived the island’s major earthquake of 1918, only to be shaken apart by the January 7 temblor.
“The only church that remained on the street (in 1918) was that,” he said. “Then 100 years later, with this earthquake, it is the one that fell down. That’s really sad because it was a very historical monument, a tourist place,” he added.
Fr Camacho said he had been in contact with Bishop Ruben Gonzalez Medina of Ponce, where the cathedral experienced some damage. Mass was cancelled January 7 at the cathedral and numerous parishes across the diocese, he said.
Fr Camacho said if more powerful earthquakes occur, he feared damage in the rural mountainous centre of the island, where housing is less sturdy, would be severe.