The Ponce Chronicles, 2020 edition, Part 3 — Earthquake!

Just a few hours after I posted my last report, minimizing the effects of the quakes, the real one hit—6.4 magnitude­—at 4 a.m.! It was a bone-rattling, house-shaking event that sent us leaping out of bed and running out of the house in our skivvies. It felt and sounded like a freight train hitting a bad section of track, with us sitting on the floor of a boxcar. It was scary as hell, especially for us earthquake neophytes. It was followed by aftershocks, and we spent a sleepless night, waiting for the next one.

In the moment of the quake, the power went off throughout most of the city, with the exception of the airport and scattered locations. We later learned that power had gone off for most of the island. [As I typed those last sentences, we just got another little shudder. Will I get used to them?] We soon learned all about the tectonic plates sliding past each other not far offshore. If it was scary for us, it must have been terrifying for the folks living closer to the water. Very soon there was a traffic jam of cars coming up the hill in the night: families who’d fled the coast in fear of a tsunami. Many of them were camped out on the road just below us, the next day. Fortunately, the tsunami never came. Here’s a government map showing the epicenter, just offshore.

Earthquake epicenter on map of PR

Ironically, this was the year we’d finally decided to buy a small generator for power outages, to keep essentials like the refrigerator going. I’d bought it in Boston just before we left and mailed it, via USPS, to ourselves in Ponce. It was here, but still in its box. I’d bought a jerry can, but hadn’t filled it. Our wonderful neighbors Frances and Che, who have a whole-house generator, had us in for breakfast; and then I set out looking for gas. I found a city eerily still. Some gas stations were open, but not much else. One Walgreens was letting people in one at a time as others left. I got my gas and a second can, and headed back up to try the new generator. Soon it was muttering away, keeping our food cold and our phones charged. The electrician had not yet installed a transfer switch for the house circuits, so we just plugged the fridge in directly to the generator, and one more extension to power phone and laptop chargers. What a relief! Fortunately, we only had to depend on it for about ten hours. Power came back on late the first evening after the quake. We were amazed; we’d expected a much longer wait. You go, utility crews!

In all, we came through it okay as far as damage is concerned, if you don’t count the fraying of our nerves. Every little aftershock since has had us glancing at each other anxiously. It was Jayce’s birthday, but we decided to put off our planned celebration a few days, especially since nothing in the city was open.

I was scheduled to return home the night after the quake, leaving Allysen and Jayce to do a few more days of work while I saw to things at home, but this turn of events had us pondering whether I should stay in case of further earth-shaking developments. The decision was taken out of our hands by the cancellation of JetBlue flights to and from the island that night. Hasty rescheduling ensued. Now we’re all leaving together on Saturday. Poor Captain Jack and McDuff will have to stay in the doggie hotel a few days longer!

In other news, I got the hot water flowing again (for a few hours, before the power went out). I was wrong about my amateur diagnosis of the wrong voltage. Apparently those heating elements just corrode away all the time. They sell them at Home Depot in blister packs like disposable car chargers.

And now, with the power back, the hot water is back, too. Hrahh! And I just now saw tonight’s first JetBlue flight land, on the other side of the city. Whatever was wrong, they got it fixed!

  1. Fran
    | Reply

    I’m glad you and your family are safe, Jeff! Stay that way!!

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