A worker repaired a power line in San Juan, P.R., on Wednesday, 18 April 2018. A major failure had knocked out the electricity across Puerto Rico. Photo: Jose Jimenez Tirado / Getty Images

By Arelis R. Hernández
18 April 2018

(The Washington Post) – An island-wide blackout struck Puerto Rico on Wednesday, plunging the U.S. territory of more than 3 million citizens back into darkness more than seven months after Hurricane Maria demolished its fragile power grid.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said the blackout, which began about 11:30 a.m., could last from 24 to 36 hours. About 5 p.m., the local utility said more than 51,000 customers had power.

The local utility said it detected a failure on a prominent distribution line that connects a major generating station in the south of the island to substations in the north, where most of the population lives.

Maria “Mayita” Melendez of Ponce, a large city on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, said PREPA told her that workers for Cobra Energy were moving a tower near Aguirre, one of the island’s major generating plants, when an excavator struck a major distribution line, causing a change in voltage that created a chain reaction.

In a video statement Wednesday afternoon, PREPA interim director Justo Gonzalez said that when the line failed, the central generating plant in the south stopped functioning and seven major plants along the southern coast collapsed one by one.

The agency said its priority is to restore service to critical structures such as hospitals, the airport, water pumps and banks. PREPA tweeted that several hospitals and medical centers had power by midafternoon.

The power outage comes two days after PREPA published an online video celebrating the restoration of electric service to 97 percent of its customers.

Wednesday’s blackout was the first island-wide power outage since the storm.[…]

In his city, Pérez Otero said a few businesses were operating only because their generators were still working. The backup power failed at a shopping center, but people continued to shop and use cash. Others rushed to gas pumps anticipating that they would close early and leave them without fuel.

But other parts of the city were “paralyzed,” he said.

The system’s fragility is especially concerning with the beginning of hurricane season only a couple of months away, giving federal and local officials little time to begin strengthening the decades-old and unkempt power grid in Puerto Rico.

“Sadly, this is the reality we will have to endure if another storm comes,” he said. “There’s no time to improve the system.” [more]

Puerto Rico back in darkness after island-wide blackout

By James Wagner and Frances Robles
18 April 2018

SAN JUAN, P.R. (The New York Times) – After seven months and close to $2.5 billion, almost everybody in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico had their lights back on — until a freak accident on Wednesday plunged the entire island once again into darkness.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority had boasted Wednesday morning that less than 3 percent of its customers remained without power, substantially concluding what some estimates called the biggest power failure in United States history. The island of 3.4 million residents was open for business again, government officials said.

It was only a few hours later that an excavator working near a fallen 140-foot transmission tower on the southern part of the island got too close to a high-voltage line. The resulting electrical fault knocked out power to nearly every home and business across the storm-battered American territory, authorities said, a catastrophic failure that could take up to 36 hours to restore.

It was the first time since Hurricane Maria left the island’s power grid in ruins on Sept. 20 that nearly all of the electric company’s 1.5 million customers found themselves in the dark, although another failure less than a week ago had cut power to 870,000 users. Only small pockets generated by microgrids were spared by the latest power loss.

“I’m angry. This is the second time in a row,” Justo González, the electric company’s chief operating officer, said in a telephone interview. “I give the people of Puerto Rico my word: we are going to restore power to every last house. […]

Leo Del Valle, 54, who lives and works in Caguas, said he went three months without power after Maria. He went home briefly after work on Wednesday and took an ice-cold shower. If the blackout lasts longer than a two days, he said, the food in his refrigerator will go to waste. “Your day-to-day changes completely,” he said. “This wears on you psychologically.”

During his power loss at his home after the hurricane, he said, he probably spent thousands on generators and fuel. His father-in-law spent over $5,000. Mr. Del Valle was more judicious and limited himself to only nine hours a day of generator use.

“If we get hit again, it’ll be a disaster,” he said. “Total chaos.”

Hurricane season starts June 1. [more]

Puerto Rico is Once Again Hit by an Islandwide Blackout



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