Maria Ortiz Viruet's son, Jesús, works on a gas-powered generator, the only electricity supply for his home in Puerto Rico. Nearly every day, the generator needs some kind of fix. When it breaks down, out come the candles and flashlights. Photo: The Washington Post

By Arelis R. Hernández, Whitney Leaming, and Zoeann Murphy
15 December 2017

(The Washington Post) – Puerto Rico’s apagón, or “super blackout,” is the longest and largest major power outage in modern U.S. history. Without electricity, there is no reliable source of clean water. School is out, indefinitely. Health care is fraught. Small businesses are faltering. The tasks of daily life are both exhausting and dangerous. There is nothing to do but wait, and no one can say when the lights will come back on.

Two powerful hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico in September. They created a humanitarian crisis for the island’s 3.4 million U.S. citizens that has persisted for three months. Power restoration is at a crawl because the grid collapsed, the utility is bankrupt and the logistics are daunting: Crews and supplies have to come from the mainland, then make their way into rugged interior areas like Utuado. Many roads remain impassable, and hundreds are still isolated. […]

No power and no water means no school for many of the territory’s more than 1,000 schools.

That’s brought total disruption to the lives of tens of thousands of children. They have lost their daily routine of classes, friends and meals. Most have not been to school at all this fall. Maria can’t get used to the emptiness.

On the mainland, school districts in Florida, Texas, New York and New England have absorbed thousands of students who don’t want to fall behind.

But those who remain — including Maria’s son, Jesús, who is 18 — don’t know what will happen next.

What he does know: Nearly every day, the generator needs some kind of fix. When it breaks down, out come the candles and flashlights.

The buzzing of fuel-powered generators is inescapable. Expensive to buy and fill, smelly and dangerous, the machines were never intended to be a substitute for public electricity.

A household can limp along on a generator, but it has been perilous for Puerto Rico’s elderly and infirm to rely on the machines for months on end.

Many of them need power just to breathe. Since the storm, there has been a surge of deaths from pneumonia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and breathing disorders compared with the same period in 2016. The toll could rise over 1,000, some estimate.

All the advances of modern medicine are useless without electricity. [more]

Life without power in Puerto Rico — and no end in sight



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