6.4-magnitude earthquake causes minor damage on Puerto Rico

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Puerto Ricans were rudely awoken by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake just after midnight Monday.

The United States Geological Survey reported that the quake's epicenter was about 35 miles north of Hatillo, at a depth of 17 miles. It was about 133 miles from St. Thomas and 161 miles from St. Croix, based on calculations by V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency officials.

No injuries were reported.

The quake was reported as one of the most sizeable in Puerto Rico's recent history.

The Tsunami Warning Center out of Palmer, Alaska, issued an alert minutes after the quake letting the region, including the Virgin Islands, know that there was no danger of a tsunami.

"Based on earthquake information and historic tsunami records, the earthquake was not enough to generate a tsunami," a center statement said.

At least 70 aftershocks have been reported since the initial quake, with at least three of a magnitude 3.5 or greater, said Gisela Baez Sanchez, a geologist with Puerto Rico's Seismic Network, told the Associated Press.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported closer to 20 aftershocks.

"They could continue for several weeks," said Julie Dutton, a geophysicist with the USGS's National Earthquake Information Center.

Dutton said that the quake was the result of two plates colliding in what is called an oblique thrust, or one in which the North America plate met the Caribbean plate and one of them slipped at the Puerto Rico Trench.

"The entire Caribbean region is in an active seismic zone, and earthquakes occur without warning," said VITEMA Director Elton Lewis in a prepared statement issued Monday.

Puerto Rico's own territorial emergency management agency received criticism following the quake because it did not issue an immediate alert, according to the Associated Press.

One of the largest and most damaging earthquakes to hit Puerto Rico occurred in October 1918, when a 7.3-magnitude quake struck near the island's northwest coast, unleashing a tsunami and killing 116 people.

VITEMA reported a 5.5-magnitude quake near the epicenter at 12:10 a.m. Monday, and a 6.5-magnitude quake at 12:19 a.m. via its alert system, which is available in the form of text messages and emails.

"We continue to urge citizens to take time now to learn more about how to be ready for this type of event, especially the three basic steps to know when an earthquake occurs - 'drop, cover under something sturdy, and hold on until the shaking stops.' We also encourage residents to earthquake-proof their homes to prevent injuries from falling objects," Lewis said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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