Puerto Rico is plunged into darkness after a power plant fire

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A major power outage hit Puerto Rico late Wednesday, plunging nearly 350,000 customers into darkness after a fire broke out at one of the largest power plants on U.S. territory.

The outage was one of the largest in recent months for the island’s crumbling power grid, whose periodic power outages have grown worse in recent years. The outage prompted a collective groan from people across Puerto Rico, as many who depend on insulin or respiratory therapies worried again about how long it would take.

“Apagón!” wrote many frustrated customers on social media, using the Spanish word for failure.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi said priority would be given to hospitals and other institutions he tweeted: “I urge everyone to remain calm.”

Puerto Rico’s health minister said generators in all hospitals and health centers were working and had enough fuel, adding that the coronavirus vaccines were properly stored at the right temperature.

A transformer fire caused a massive power outage in Puerto Rico.
A transformer fire caused a massive power outage in Puerto Rico.
Twitter/AEE Online

Traffic officials said crews evacuated passengers from the island’s rapid transit system and bused them to their destinations.

Education officials said they would soon announce whether Thursday public school classes would be canceled, frustrating many parents who feared they couldn’t figure out if their cellphones were broken and they couldn’t charge them.

Luma, a private company that took over transmission and distribution for Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority last year, said in a statement that power “given the size and scope” of the outage may not be restored until Thursday.

“The power grid has suffered a massive power outage across the island, possibly caused by a circuit breaker failure at the Costa Sur power station. We are currently not sure of the exact cause,” the company said.

Costa Sur is one of the four main power stations on the island.

The Puerto Rico Fire Department worked late into the night to put out the blaze as frustration and anger at another power outage continued to mount.

Carian Montull, 36, said she was at a clothing store in southern Puerto Rico when the lights went out. She said the store’s generators wouldn’t turn on, forcing her and about a dozen other customers to leave their purchases and go home.

She said someone nearby yelled, “The lights seriously went out?! That can not be.”

Montull said she doesn’t have a generator at home and hopes electricity will come back soon so the food in her fridge doesn’t spoil.

Luma said it will release additional information once it has more details. When it took over transmission and distribution in June, the then-governor said the company had committed to reducing power outages by 30% and the duration of outages by 40%. That same month, a major fire at a substation in the capital, San Juan, left hundreds of thousands without power.

Another fire at a power plant in September 2016 triggered an island-wide power outage. A year later, Hurricane Maria struck, devastating the island’s weak electrical grid and leaving some customers without power for almost a year. Emergency repairs have since been carried out, but reconstruction efforts have yet to begin.

Additionally, Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority is trying to emerge from bankruptcy and is holding about $9 billion in government debt that it is attempting to restructure. The utility has long struggled with mismanagement, corruption and aging infrastructure that has not been maintained. Puerto Rico is plunged into darkness after a power plant fire


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