Puerto Ricans are seething with lack of electricity days after Fiona

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San Juan, Puerto Rico — Half of Puerto Rico is without power for more than five days after Hurricane Fiona hit, including an entire city where no work crews have arrived.

Many on US soil are angry and in disbelief, and calls are mounting for the ousting of the island’s private power transmission and distribution company.

Fuel disruptions are making the situation worse, forcing grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses to close and leaving apartment buildings in the dark as there is no diesel for generators.

Many wonder why it’s taking so long to restore power since Fiona was a Category 1 storm that didn’t affect the whole island and whose rain – not wind – inflicted the greatest damage.

“It’s not normal,” said Marcel Castro-Sitiriche, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. “They did not give a convincing explanation of the problem.”

He noted that Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority and Luma, a private company that took over the island’s power transmission and distribution last year, also failed to release background information. such as details of damage to the power grid.

“We don’t yet know the extent of the damage,” Castro said, adding that he was concerned and surprised that Luma hadn’t brought in additional crews to augment the extra manpower already on the ship. island.

Luma said Fiona’s flooding had left several substations underwater and inaccessible, and he insisted he didn’t need more staff.

“We have all the resources we think we need,” said Luma engineer Daniel Hernández.

The lack of power has prompted at least one mayor to activate his own repair crews, and several other city leaders are demanding answers about why Luma crews haven’t reconnected homes and key infrastructure.

“They haven’t even arrived here,” said Yasmín Allende, municipal administrator of Hormigueros, a town in western Puerto Rico that is home to more than 15,600 people, many of them elderly.

She said city officials had provided a list of downed transformers and power lines as well as the exact location of dozens of damaged utility poles. They even cleared openings around the damaged spots to ensure power could be restored as soon as possible, she said.

“Everything is ready for them so they can come and do their job,” Allende said. “They just have to show up.”

Elizabeth González, who lives in Hormigueros, said she was forced to throw away two bags of meat on Friday and struggled to buy more gas for her generator, even though her husband, who has cancer, depends on it.

González said she was fed up with Puerto Rico’s power grid.

“It’s useless, simple as that,” she said. “If a hurricane comes, if it rains, or a small gust of wind, the power goes out quickly.”

The island’s power grid was already collapsing due to austerity measures, aging infrastructure and lack of maintenance when a powerful Hurricane Maria flattened the system in 2017. Rebuilding the grid had only just begun. start when Hurricane Fiona hit last Sunday.

In the first days after Fiona, Luma officials and Governor Pedro Pierluisi promised that the vast majority of customers would soon have their power back. But on Friday evening, more than 40% of the 1.47 million customers were still in the dark.

Additionally, 27% of the 1.3 million water and sewer customers had no water in part because pumps depended on electricity and not all had backup generators.

Neither Luma nor the Puerto Rico Electric Generating Utility has indicated when power will be restored to the worst affected areas. They only said that hospitals and other critical infrastructure were their priority.

The situation has outraged many Puerto Ricans, including local government officials.

“I won’t accept excuses,” said Alexander Burgos, mayor of the central mountain town of Ciales. “Our power lines are in place, there are no power poles on the ground and we are ready to be connected.”

Edward O’Neill, mayor of the northern town of Guaynabo, tweeted that Luma’s “poor performance” was “unacceptable”.

O’Neill, who has worked for both the Puerto Rico Electric Company and Luma, said his municipality collected all the information needed to help crews restore power, but saw no results. .

In the northern city of Bayamon, Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera grew tired of waiting and hired independent repair crews that began work Friday afternoon, although they weren’t handling live wires.

Cathy Kunkel, a Puerto Rico-based energy and finance analyst, said she was surprised power had yet to be restored to areas barely affected by Fiona, including the capital city of San Juan. .

She also questioned why Luma didn’t employ hundreds of experienced linemen who worked with Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority before the private company took over transmission and distribution in June 2021.

“We have this absurdly frustrating situation,” she said. “The old system is maintained in a substandard way. In fact, you want people who know how to work on this particular system.”

Lack of electricity has been linked to several deaths. Authorities say a 70-year-old man burned to death while trying to refuel his running generator and a 78-year-old man died after inhaling toxic gases from his generator. On Friday, police said a 72-year-old man and a 93-year-old woman died after their home caught fire because they relied on candles for light.

Castro-Sitiriche, the professor of electrical engineering, said the government of Puerto Rico, Luma and the Electric Power Authority are all to blame.

“It’s a shared disaster,” he said, adding that Fiona was a wake-up call that more people needed to be connected to solar power. “It’s a shame the government didn’t do this to save lives.”

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ABC

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