Another Earthquake Has Struck Puerto Rico, Damaging Museums on an Island Still Recovering From a String of Natural Catastrophes

Saturday's earthquake severely damaged the historic Museo de la Masacre de Ponce.

Earthquake damage to the Museo de la Masacre de Ponce. Photo by Osvaldo Rios-Alonso, via Facebook.
Earthquake damage to the Museo de la Masacre de Ponce. Photo by Osvaldo Rios-Alonso, via Facebook.

Puerto Rico’s recent spate of seismic activity continued this past weekend with a 5.5-magnitude earthquake that struck Saturday morning and severely damaged the historic Museo de la Masacre de Ponce, a memorial to the 1937 civil rights protest that left 19 civilians and two police officers dead.

Photos of the Museo de la Masacre on Facebook show a partial collapse of the museum’s facade and wrap-around balcony, with piles of rubble in the street. The building had previously suffered slight damage to the balcony roof in January, according to El Universal.

The island has been suffering a string of earthquakes since December, including “six events magnitude 5.5 and larger and over a thousand magnitude 3.0 and larger events,” according to a statement from the US Geological Service.

The latest quake was centered on the island’s southern coast, near Tallaboa, about 80 miles south of San Juan.

Earthquake damage to the Museo de la Masacre de Ponce. Photo by Osvaldo Rios-Alonso, via Facebook.

Earthquake damage to the Museo de la Masacre de Ponce. Photo by Osvaldo Rios-Alonso, via Facebook.

The continued seismic activity particularly stings for a community still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, and coming amid the global health crisis.

FEMA has paused its field operations, which were launched after the December earthquakes, until at least May 25, but “personnel continue to work on the island to support survivors of the December 28–February 4 earthquakes and continuing aftershocks,” wrote a FEMA representative in an email to Artnet News, noting that the agency has been remotely reviewing and approving applications for relief aid.

Just around the corner from the Museo de la Masacre is Casa Paoli, a historic house museum dedicated to Puerto Rican tenor Antonio Paoli that was also damaged. “Experts say that if this series of earthquakes continues, the four main walls of the building’s interior structure may collapse,” museum director Nestor Murray told Artnet News in an email.

Earthquake damage to the Museo de la Masacre de Ponce. Photo by Betsy Ramos Colón, via Facebook.

Earthquake damage to the Museo de la Masacre de Ponce. Photo by Betsy Ramos Colón, via Facebook.

The nearby Museo de Arte de Ponce, which was hit hard by the January quakes, was spared this time around. “We are happy to report that there were no further damages in our building,” wrote Alejandra Peña Gutiérrez, the museum’s director, in an email to Artnet News.

The museum had closed indefinitely in January following non-structural damage to its main building, as well as three damaged sculptures. It has maintained a slate of off-site educational programming and introduced a new social media initiative called ConectARTE.

Its plan is to continue repairs and prepare the museum for reopening, Gutiérrez said, but added that “we must follow the protocols in compliance with the requirements established by the government of Puerto Rico in the midst of the mandatory lockdown.”


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