3+ months after Hurricane Maria, barely half of Puerto Rico has power

2017-12-30 12:29
Homes and other buildings destroyed by Hurricane Maria lie in ruins in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. (Gerald Herbert, AP, File)

Homes and other buildings destroyed by Hurricane Maria lie in ruins in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. (Gerald Herbert, AP, File)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

San Juan - Puerto Rico authorities said on Friday that nearly half of power customers in the US territory still lack electricity more than three months after Hurricane Maria, sparking outrage among islanders who accuse the government of mismanaging its response to the Category 4 storm.

Officials said 55% of the nearly 1.5 million customers have power, marking the first time the government has provided that statistic since Maria hit on September 20 with winds of up to 154 mph. Officials had previously reported only power generation, which stands at nearly 70% of pre-storm levels.

"It's just extraordinary that it is still so far away from being 100% recovered," said Susan Tierney, a senior adviser for Denver-based consulting company Analysis Group who testified before a US Senate committee on efforts to restore power in Puerto Rico. "I'm not aware of any time in recent decades since the US has electrified the entire economy that there has been an outage of this magnitude."

One of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities remains entirely without power, and it's unclear when some electricity will be restored to the central mountain town of Ciales. Crews this week restored power for the first time to parts of the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa, which received the first hit from Maria.

Among those still in the dark is Christian Pagan, 58, who lives near the capital of San Juan and said it was the government's fault that a large number of people still don't have power.

Bureaucracy and an uncoordinated reaction

"Everybody saw that the devastation was great, but I don't understand why they're trying to sell people something that's not real," he said of the explanations the government has provided as to why power has not been fully restored. "The first month was lost to bureaucracy and an uncoordinated reaction."

He especially criticised the power company's former director, Ricardo Ramos, who resigned in late October after signing a $300 million contract for a Montana-based company that had only two full-time employees when the storm hit. Ramos also had said that he did not activate mutual-aid agreements with power companies in the US mainland in part because there was no way to communicate with them.

"That's the kind of help you ask for three days before the hurricane," Pagan said.

It is not yet known what percentage of businesses and homes now have electricity. Power company spokesperson Geraldo Quinones told The Associated Press that officials are still working to obtain that data, stressing that the optical fibre that helps provide the number of customers with power and other data was destroyed by the hurricane.

Governor Ricardo Rossello had pledged 95% power generation by December 15, while the US Army Corps of Engineers has said the entire island will have power by May.

Fredyson Martinez, vice president of a union that represents workers with Puerto Rico's power company, told the AP on Friday that a recent study by local engineers found that 90% of industries and 75% of businesses already have power, meaning residential areas are disproportionately in the dark.

Martinez said the company should have provided the number of customers without power a while ago, adding that officials had other ways of obtaining the information despite the damaged fibre optic cable.

Rough terrain

Martinez also said that a lack of supplies and equipment is slowing power restoration efforts, echoing an early concern by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which also has said that Puerto Rico's rough terrain presents another challenge.

Government officials said nearly 14 000 poles already have been shipped to Puerto Rico, and that another 7 000 will arrive in upcoming days. In addition, some 3 500 workers are trying to restore power across the island, with many working through the holidays and others even stripping down to their shorts to swim across a cold river with a strong current to reach damaged infrastructure.

"We know that the priority of our clients is to know when they will receive the power service again," said Justo Gonzalez, the power company's interim director. "Maria severely impacted most of our energy infrastructure."

Officials said Puerto Rico has 2 400 miles of transmission lines, 30 000 miles of distribution lines and 342 substations that suffered substantial damage during the hurricane. Gonzalez said crews are tackling projects that include installing new poles and building primary transmission towers and connection wiring.

Carlos Torres, who is overseeing power restoration efforts, said that crews are still finding unexpected damage including what he called severely impacted substations.

"We will not stop working until every person and business has their lights back on," he said.

'Lack of respect' 

Among those still waiting for power is Eileen Cheverez, a 48-year-old respiratory therapist who lives in Morovis, which borders Ciales. She said power was restored to homes around her, but that crews still need to set up a key cable so she can have lights.

"This truly consumes you mentally, emotionally," she said, adding that seeing homes lit up around her gives her some hope amid the frustration. "It's like a lack of respect. I know the damage was great, especially in the mountains, but I feel they've taken too long."

Puerto Rico's governor on Friday said that he has requested up to 1 500 additional workers from electric companies across the US mainland to help restore power, and said he has asked the Army Corps of Engineers to increase its capacity to provide assistance.

"We understand how difficult it has been for the people of Puerto Rico who have been without power for so long," he said. "Our administration will continue working to ensure that there are the necessary resources to complete this restoration effort after an unprecedented devastation."

Read more on:    puerto rico  |  hurricane maria

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.