Power Almost Fully Restored in Puerto Rico
VOA News/Gianpaolo Pietri/Wayne Lee
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Eighty-percent of the more than 1.3 million customers who were left without electricity in Puerto Rico have had power restored, the U.S. territory’s power company said Thursday.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) said power would be restored to the remaining 326,000 customers by late Thursday.
It was the second island-wide blackout in a week.
PREPA, the highly indebted company that generates and delivers all public power on the island, said Wednesday the blackout was caused when Cobra Energy, a U.S. private contractor, hit a transmission line with a crane, causing multiple power plants to shut down in quick succession.
The sudden loss of power transmission then made it impossible for substations to keep running.
Cobra Energy did not respond to VOA requests for comment.
Hospitals are a priority
PREPA said its priority is to bring back service to hospitals, San Juan’s airport, water pumping systems and financial institutions.
The island-wide outage caused chaos in the streets. Local law enforcement mobilized traffic units to busy intersections across the island. Within hours, long lines were reported at local gas stations and gridlock at some of the larger intersections in the San Juan area. Several fires and explosions resulting from faulty generators were reported in urban areas around San Juan, but were quickly contained.
About 40,000 customers have not had electricity since Hurricane Maria hit the island last September.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers has spent $2.1 billion on restoring power on the island, where 80 percent of the distribution lines were damaged during the hurricane. Declaring its mission nearly complete, the Corps had already begun demobilizing the majority of the contractors on the island.
‘Use as little power as possible’
With a debt of $9 billion, PREPA filed for a form of bankruptcy last year. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is pushing a bill to privatize the power system. The island’s legislature held public hearings this week.
Jorge Bracero, an engineer with the power authority known for his impromptu social media reports on the status of the island’s power grid, has urged caution and patience from the community as they restore the system.
“People should try to use as little power as possible until the system is fully restored,” he said.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a frequent critic of recovery efforts since the hurricane, tweeted Wednesday, “The entire electrical system in Puerto Rico collapses AGAIN! Back to September 20th.”
All this uncertainty looms large as another hurricane season, which forecasts predict to be an active one, begins in September.