Cars drive under a downed power pole in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico September 21, 2022.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico--Puerto Rican government workers tried to forge their own path to restoring power on Monday, when about 40% of the island was without electricity more than a week after Hurricane Fiona struck.
As of 1:00pm on Monday, Puerto Rico grid operator LUMA Energy said power had been restored to 59% of its roughly 1.5 million customers following the September 18 arrival of Fiona, at the time a category one hurricane that caused almost all the island’s roughly 3.3 million residents to lose power.
Local officials sent city workers to patch up the systems themselves on Monday. “We are going to take to the streets this afternoon since LUMA is not answering,” said Luis Javier Hernandez, mayor of Villalba, a municipality in central Puerto Rico.
Teams of municipal workers planned to raise fallen poles, collect downed cables and complete other prep work to speed restoration of electricity, Hernandez said, adding his town is completely without power. Hernandez said LUMA had failed to communicate clearly about how it would help Villalba regain service. LUMA did not immediately offer a response to his concerns.
Members of a Mayors Association told a news conference in Isabela, a region on the northwest coast, that other municipalities would send out crews to raise poles and lines. PowerOutage.us, which estimates outages based on utility data, said about 600,000 of a total of 1.468 million customers remained without service on Monday afternoon based on information from LUMA. LUMA projected that 91% of the island will have power by Friday.
Cascading energy problems
The widespread outages have led to a cascade of energy problems for Puerto Rico. Fuel distribution limitations and surging demand for fuel to run backup generators has left many gas stations dry.
Fiona turned into a post-tropical cyclone by the United States (US) National Hurricane Centre on Saturday, battered Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean a week ago. Health officials in Puerto Rico attributed 12 deaths to the storm in Puerto Rico.
The storm has brought back painful memories for many Puerto Ricans of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria five years ago, which killed thousands of people and knocked out power to nearly all customers for weeks.
When Maria hit the island as a powerful category five storm, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) owned and operated the power grid.
Last year, LUMA, a joint venture by units of Canadian energy firm ATCO Ltd ATCx.TO and US energy contractor Quanta Services Inc PWR.N, took over operations. PREPA still owns much of the infrastructure.
Hundreds marched in Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan in July to demand that the island’s government cancel its contract with LUMA over chronic power outages and frequent rate hikes.
Despite roughly $12.5 billion in federal funds being approved for spending to modernise Puerto Rico’s grid after Maria, academics and analysts say bureaucratic holdups, policy disagreements and other dilemmas have stalled the spending process. ~ Reuters ~