Puerto Rico’s worst blackout since Maria leaves island residents ‘frustrated’

Posted on: April 18th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Ricardo Arduengo/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Puerto Rico is facing its worst blackout since Hurricane Maria hit in September, leaving some residents wondering whether the island will ever fully recover.

“Everyone is frustrated and it’s so unstable,” said Eileen Velez, a 37-year-old engineer who lives outside San Juan. “It feels like the hurricane side effects will never end.”

The power outage is affecting the entire island, according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

“The entire electrical system in Puerto Rico collapses AGAIN! Back to September 20th,” tweeted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Wednesday.

The main priorities for restoration are hospitals, airports, water treatment plants, banks, business and then homes, a PREPA spokesperson told ABC News, adding it will take 24 to 36 hours for the last person to get their power back.

The trouble began when the contractor Cobra Energy used an excavator to remove a recently collapsed electrical tower on Wednesday, affecting the line that caused the outage, according to Justo Gonzalez, acting executive director of PREPA.

Gonzalez said it is possible that only 1 to 2 percent of customers had power after the incident, as compared to 92.7 percent before the outage.

Mammoth Energy, the parent company of Cobra, said in a statement to ABC News “Cobra is dedicated to the difficult work that lies ahead and continues to work around-the-clock with PREPA and the citizens of Puerto Rico to repair the entire infrastructure system to prevent outages such as this one from affecting the entire population on the island.”

Puerto Rico has been plagued by several blackouts in recent months, including a major outage last week that affected roughly 840,000 people.

In March, six months since Hurricane Maria walloped the island, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said that the electrical grid being put up currently will be weaker than the grid that existed before the storm, adding that it could take nearly five years for a stronger grid to be built.

“Everybody is pissed off,” said Dr. Jorge Gabriel Rosado, 30, a pediatrician on the island. “Especially when all these reports keep coming out that [seem to] confirm what was an unspoken truth: Response to this disaster was slower and more disinterested than any other emergency response in U.S. history.”

In February, Rossello told ABC News that he felt a lack of urgency from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in helping to restore power.

“Two-thirds of the island’s recovery on that front is in the Corps of Engineers’ hands,” Rossello said. “I have seen a lack of urgency on that, whether it is on the contracting side or the bringing materials side which is a current problem.”

“We respond to get things back up to normal,” Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said. “Rebuilding the generating capability of Puerto Rico was not the Corps of Engineers’ task.”

The power outage has called into question a baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians scheduled for Wednesday night in San Juan.

In a bit of good news for the island, Puerto Rico Series’ director of operations John Blakeman told ESPN the show will go on.

“This has not taken us by surprise. We are prepared. Every area of Hiram Bithorn Stadium can run on generators that have a capacity to run for 48 hours,” Blakeman said.

The game is expected to create a $17 million impact to the island, according to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

On Wednesday evening, PREPA announced that more than 51,000 customers have electric service, though Puerto Rico has more than 1 million households.

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