Gobernador declara estado de emergencia ante situación se apagón en la Isla.
Electricity out Across Puerto Rico After Power Plant Fire
By danica coto, associated pressSAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Sep 22, 2016, 12:27 PM ET
The Associated PressA transit police officer directs the flow of traffic at an intersection in San Juan, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, after a massive blackout hit Puerto Rico Wednesday afternoon, leaving at least 1.5 million people without power overnight and into the following day. Repair crews are trying to restore electricity on the island after a fire at Aguirre power plant blacked out the entire U.S. territory. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
Much of Puerto Rico was still without electricity Thursday following a fire at a power plant that set off a broader outage across the island's aging utility grid, leaving most of the island's 3.5 million people without service.
The vast majority of Puerto Ricans don't have generators and Wednesday's blackout forced them to spend the night in darkness and without air conditioning in the tropical heat. They awoke to find most businesses and public offices closed, with the officials saying it could be 24 hours before power would be restored.
"Puerto Rico is not prepared for something like this," said 23-year-old Celestino Ayala Santiago, who slept in his car so he could have some air conditioning to escape the heat.
Smaller, more localized power outages are common in Puerto Rico, which has an outdated energy infrastructure, but not on this scale except following tropical storms. "This is an apocalypse," said 43-year-old Jose Tavela as he ate breakfast at a small cafe in the capital that had a generator.
Utility officials said they were trying to determine what caused the fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon at the Aguirre power plant in the southern town of Salinas and triggered the larger outage.
The fire apparently knocked out a transmission line that serves the broader grid, which tripped circuit breakers that automatically shut down the flow of power as a preventive measure, said Yohari Molina, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia-Padilla said at a news conference that a switch where the fire broke out had been properly maintained, rejecting suggestions that the outage stemmed from maintenance problems that have plagued the utility for years, largely a result of the island's deep economic and fiscal crisis.
As soon as the power failed, roads that are clogged with traffic on a normal day were plunged into chaos as streetlights went out. Businesses closed, long lines formed at gas stations and rooms quickly filled at hotels with generators. Many Puerto Ricans dragged mattresses out to balconies and porches to spend the night outside, doing what they could to ward off mosquitoes in the still air.
"To see everything blacked out, my God," said Virginia Davila, a nurse's assistant who lives on the 11th floor of an apartment building in San Juan.
Javier Quintana, executive director of the utility, said power was restored to more than 130,000 of the total of 1.5 million customers by early Thursday morning and that it may be back to normal on Friday.
The governor warned it would be a slow process. "Given that the system is so old, numerous setbacks could occur," he said. "The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude."
Many Puerto Ricans expressed doubts that power would be restored quickly, saying the economic slump has affected basic government services. Hundreds of people took to social media to criticize the power utility, many noting that they already pay bills on average twice that of the U.S. mainland.
It was unclear how much damage the fire caused or where the power company would obtain the money to repair or buy new equipment. The utility is struggling with a $9 billion debt that it hopes to restructure as it faces numerous corruption allegations. Company officials have said they are seeking revenue to update outdated equipment.
Authorities said Wednesday's outage caused 15 fires across Puerto Rico as a result of malfunctioning generators, including at the upscale Vanderbilt Hotel in the popular tourist area of Condado and at the mayor's office in the northern coastal town of Catano. All those fires were extinguished and no one was injured, officials said.
Most of Puerto Rico still in the dark after power plant fire
Charles Ventura, USA TODAY 12:41 p.m. EDT September 22, 2016
An enormous fire which erupted at an electrical plant sparked a massive blackout in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, leaving nearly 1.5 million across the island without power.
(Photo: Ricardo Arduengo, AP)
The vast majority of Puerto Ricans were without power Thursday after an enormous fire at an electrical plant left most of the island's 3.5 million people without electricity.
As of Thursday morning, 131,000 customers had power restored in the wake of Wednesday's blaze. The outage occurred after two transmission lines, with power running up to 230,000 volts, failed, the Electric Power Authority said.
Power was shut off island-wide as a safety precaution, FEMA said. All of the island's schools were closed Thursday.
Officials expressed their concern about the system failure.
“This is a very serious event,” Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said of the outage. “The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude. I assume complete responsibility. Everyone knows that the company’s maintenance problems began decades ago.”
Businesses, universities and government offices shuttered early Wednesday, creating chaos on roads. A police officer directing traffic was hit and taken to the hospital. Firefighters extinguished the blaze at the southern power plant, though cause of the fire remains unknown.
Airports, police stations and water plants are expected to receive first priority as power is restored to the island. Rolling power outages are expected to continue as repairs occur, FEMA said.
Puerto Rico’s power company has undergone a drastic financial rehaul, mostly stemming from the $9 billion debt it hopes to restructure amid corruption allegations.
Puerto Ricans, who continue to struggle in the midst of the island’s economic hardship, were angered about the power outage and expressed concerns on social media.