The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria has yet to be fully addressed in Puerto Rico, but now the island is contending with yet another power-related problem. On Wednesday, an island-wide blackout plunged Puerto Rico into darkness, and was apparently caused by an excavator. When workers were trying to remove a fallen tower, the machine came too close to an energized line, leading to an electrical ground fault that took out the entire power grid.
“The breakdown affected the entire electrical system and generating plants,” Geraldo Quiñones López, a spokesman for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told NBC. It is estimated that it could take between 24 and 36 hours to fully restore power, and for the time being most of the island is still without power.
Puerto Rico has been struggling to maintain power for its residents since Hurricane Maria struck with full force seven months ago. Last week, a tree fell on another power line and caused a power outage for 870,000 customers. “This is the second power failure that has affected the people of Puerto Rico in less than a week,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said. As a result, Rossello is requesting that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority cancel its contract with the subcontractor who was responsible for not one, but both of the power losses. “I have suggested to the PREPA Board of Directors that they cancel the contract with the Cobra subcontractor who is directly responsible for this power outage,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “This incident denotes the need to transform PREPA into a cutting-edge, modern, and robust corporation. This is another example of why Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure needs to incorporate new forms of power.”
At 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday, only 334,000 people in Puerto Rico had electricity again. Over 3.3 million individuals currently reside on the island.
The company is working to first restore power to hospitals, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, pumping systems for the Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority, and central banks. Impressively, the airport has managed to run on a generator and has yet to cancel or delay any flights.