Many Puerto Ricans woke up on Wednesday to a second day without electricity after the island’s worst earthquake in a century knocked out power, collapsed homes and killed at least one person.
All schools remained closed and public employees except police and health workers stayed at home as engineers checked the safety of buildings after Tuesday’s 6.4-magnitude quake and powerful aftershocks.
Some Puerto Ricans in the hard-hit south of the island moved beds outside on Tuesday night and slept outdoors, fearful their homes would crumble if another earthquake hit after a week of tremors, the governor, Wanda Vázquez, told reporters.
Nearly 500,000 people had power service restored by Wednesday morning, up from 100,000 the night before, and the island was generating about 542 megawatts of electricity, the power authority AEE said, still far short of the demand of 2,000 megawatts.
The hardest-hit municipality was the south-west coastal town of Guánica. More than 200 people had taken shelter in a gymnasium after a first quake on Monday, only for the latest shake to damage that structure, forcing them to sleep outside.
Among them was 80-year-old Lupita Martínez, who sat in the dusty parking lot with her 96-year-old husband by her side. He was sleeping in a makeshift bed, a dark blue coat covering him.
“There’s no power. There’s no water. There is nothing. This is horrible,” Martínez said.
The US federal disaster agency Fema said Donald Trump had signed an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico because of the quake.
As authorities on the island assessed damage from the latest tremor, Democrats in Congress issued demands that the administration release $8.3bn in disaster recovery approved after the island was slammed by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017.
Democratic 2020 candidates also weighed in with calls for official assistance – and criticized the administration for holding up aid after Maria.
A Fema report into its response to Hurricanes Irma, María and Harvey in 2017, which overall affected 47 million people, concluded the agency needed to improve “overall readiness and resiliency for future incidents”.
In October, the housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, was forced to defend the agency against accusations that administrators intentionally missed a legally required deadline that would have given billions in federal housing funds to the island.
“The Trump administration has failed the people of Puerto Rico,” Bernie Sanders said in his tweet, adding: “We must do everything we can to rebuild.”
Joe Biden said it was “unconscionable” that disaster recovery work remained undone and called for delivery of “concrete support” to Puerto Rico.
“I’ll fight to ensure they receive the disaster assistance they need and deserve to recover from these earthquakes,” Elizabeth Warren tweeted.
Pete Buttigieg said Puerto Ricans “must be assured the administration will act quickly”.
Senators Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker also issued calls for a coherent official response.
About 750 people spent Tuesday night in shelters in southern towns hit hardest by the earthquake. Television images showed flattened homes and apartment buildings with deep cracks running down their exteriors in communities such as Guánica and Ponce.
Bottled water, batteries and flashlights ran low at supermarkets in the capital, San Juan, and long lines formed outside gas stations.
Puerto Ricans are used to dealing with hurricanes but powerful quakes are rare on the island.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, this is the first time this has happened to us,” said Patricia Alonso, 48, who lost power and water at her home and headed to her mother’s apartment building with her 13-year-old son as it had a generator.
Tuesday’s quake struck at a depth of six miles (10km) at 4.24am near Ponce, the US Geological Survey said.