Aerial view of a destroyed power pylon in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Photo: Eliud Echevarría

By Jim Wyss
14 October 2017

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (Miami Herald) – Washboards, candles, and cash are the new must-have items on this powerless island.

Almost four weeks after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, 85 percent of the population is still without electricity, forcing people to get creative — and go old school — as they face an extended period of life in the new dark ages.

After Maria obliterated the body shop where he worked, Eddri Serrano, 20, started making old-timey laundry washboards out of modern-day plastic.

On Saturday, he and his cousin were sprinting along the freeway hawking the tablas for $15 a pop.

“I had to do something,” said Serrano, who claims they’ve sold as many as 70 in a day. “It was either this or steal, and I would rather be broke than steal.”

One grateful customer, Cruzdelia Cardona, 72, said she hadn’t used a washboard since her teens. “This makes me remember my youth,” she said.

Puerto Rican authorities are scrambling to bring the island’s utilities back into the 21st century, as they face mounting criticism about the slow pace of the recovery.

On Saturday, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said FEMA was making a $128 million disbursement so the island can quadruple the number of electrical crews over the next three weeks. He also pledged to restore electricity to 50 percent of the island by Nov. 15, and 95 percent of the island by December — far faster than previous estimates.

Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was on life support even before the storm hit, a victim of the decade-long recession. But it’s hard to fathom the scope and scale of Maria’s destruction.

The administration says about 50,000 utility poles and 6,500 miles worth of power lines will be needed to restore power. As one radio station pointed out, that’s enough cable to stretch from Ponce to Antarctica. [more]

In powerless Puerto Rico, washboards and hand-held fans are making a comeback

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