Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A Puerto Rico power plant that was damaged by strong earthquakes this week could take a year to repair, the head of the island's power authority said.
Officials said about 20 percent of Puerto Rico's population of 3.2 million were still without electricity Friday. The plant was damaged following two earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.8 and 6.4, respectively.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency Thursday, making services available to Medicare, Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program recipients.
The Costa Sur power plant in Guayanilla, which was near the epicenter of the largest quake, could be offline for up to a year, Jose Ortiz of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said. Other plants in the U.S. commonwealth will need to operate at full capacity to meet the island's electrical demand.
"Costa Sur is a disaster," Ortiz said. "There is structural damage and damage to equipment. "Repairs could take months, perhaps up to one year.
"It's really unsafe to be there right now. It's life-threatening. [Wednesday], when we were inspecting it with the people from FEMA, we had to leave when an aftershock started."
Ortiz said some equipment at the plant is 60 years old.
"Imagine you have a taxi, 60 years old, and you are required to run that 24/7," he added. "That's the kind of business we're running."
The island has been hit with at least 120 aftershocks recently, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Water boilers used to make electricity were unmoored from their bases by the quakes, and structural damage to water-cleaning tanks includes cracks, and concrete and metal breaks, which provoked oil spills.
One person died during the larger quake and several others were injured. The temblor destroyed several schools and hundreds of homes in the island's southwest, which saw the worst of the damage.