Limited economic impact expected from Puerto Rico earthquakes

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Economists in Puerto Rico said that this week’s earthquakes will have limited impact on the island’s economy unless additional temblors follow.

The earthquakes hit the island’s southwest. On Monday morning there was a magnitude 5.7 earthquake and on Tuesday a magnitude 6.4 earthquake was followed by a magnitude 5.6 earthquake and multiple smaller aftershocks.

The 6.4 earthquake caused damage to two power generation stations in the south and caused the island's entire electric distribution system to shut down automatically as a protection mechanism. As of early afternoon, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority had reestablished service to the Vieques and Mayaguez sectors.


On Tuesday afternoon the El Nuevo Día news website quoted PREPA Director José Ortiz as saying that he expected it would take several days to reestablish power to the southern region of Puerto Rico because of the damage to the two plants. The plants produce 1,400 of the system's 6,070 megawatts. One plant, Costa Sur, is owned by PREPA and the other, Ecoeléctrica, is owned by an independent power provider that sells to PREPA.

“The tremors have caused substantial damage, but on a scale that can be managed with local resources," said Advantage Business Consulting Chief Economist Juan Lara.

“However, a few more quakes like the last two, or a very strong one, could compromise the power and transportation infrastructures to the point of causing a sharp drop in economic activity, which is already weak. There would also be long-term effects with a more complicated and costlier reconstruction than already budgeted post-[hurricane] Maria,” said Lara, a University of Puerto Rico economics professor.

Estudios Técnicos Chairman José Villamil said an inquiry about Tuesday's earthquake's impact on the economy and infrastructure was an “impossible question to answer ‘off the cuff.’"

He continued: “Yes it will have a negative impact but probably not so much in terms of damage to the infrastructure — probably not too much except in very specific locations — but in terms of introducing another risk factor that up to now was simply not there. No one really gave earthquakes too much thought. Obviously, there will be additional tasks for [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the local authorities, and this may mean redirecting resources from other uses.

“Knowing how much damages amount to will have to wait, but what we do know is that there is a new risk factor to be taken into account that wasn’t there a couple of weeks ago,” Villamil said.

The Puerto Rico Oversight Board authorized the local government’s use of $260 million in the Emergency Reserve Fund for expenses connected with the earthquakes. The board authorized use of the money through the end of January.

On Tuesday morning, Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced a state of emergency in Puerto Rico and activated the National Guard. She requested President Donald Trump declare a federal disaster. U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón sent a letter in support of the governor’s request.

El Nuevo Día reported early Tuesday afternoon that 300,000 customers of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority lacked service.

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