After much struggle and a botched contract to restore power, the embattled island showed some progress in its recovery from Hurricane Maria. Then Sunday, the lights went out again: An explosion and fire at two power plants shrouded much of the northern part of the island in darkness.
Most customers hit by the blackout had their power restored by Monday. But the incident underscores the challenges of recovering from a major storm on an island with aging infrastructure. It’s a reminder that the U.S. territory will probably have a longer, tougher road to recovery than other states battered by recent storms.
Union leader Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, who represents Puerto Rico’s public electrical workers, spoke outside one of the damaged power stations and warned against privatizing the electrical system, something Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has favored.
“It’s been five months without power,” Jaramillo said, according to The Washington Post. “We could have made much more progress than this.”
Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm with 155-mph winds, ripped through the middle of the island Aug. 20. It destroyed thousands of homes, killed at least 64 people and left thousands without electricity or water for months. As of Monday, 99% of customers in Puerto Rico had running water, and 84% of the island had power back. More than 400,000 customers still don’t have electricity.
Restoring power, in particular, has been a challenge. Renewed blackouts occur just as homes regain electricity. Sunday’s blackout happened when fires knocked offline two substations near San Juan, power company spokesman Geraldo Quinones told the Associated Press. The substations were repaired by dawn, and most customers — including Puerto Rico’s largest public hospital and its main international airport — had power restored, he said.
“They’ll be working throughout today to fully restore service,” Quinones said, adding that authorities are investigating what caused the fire.