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Puerto Rico Is Once Again Hit by an Islandwide Blackout

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Puerto Rican residents, largely resigned to the continuing disruptions, did not seem convinced. “It’s frustrating,” said José Carrillo, 55, whose power was out for three months before being restored in November. “You go three months without electricity and you think you’re getting back to normalcy, and this happens again.”

The utility company scrambled to restore service to the airport, major hospitals and a stadium hosting a Major League Baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins. At the close of business on Wednesday, only 51,000 customers had power again — including the baseball stadium. But by Thursday morning, the agency said it had returned power to more than 1.1 million of customers.

Traffic was at a standstill on Wednesday as the few operational stoplights went black. Schools, shopping centers and businesses closed. A Chili’s restaurant went up in flames as its generator exploded, the fire department said.

Many large hotels in San Juan experienced only a temporary power loss until generators kicked in. The lights flickered and went out for about 30 seconds at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, where a news conference was underway to commemorate Roberto Clemente, a Puerto Rico native who played 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates and died in a plane crash in while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

“Welcome to Puerto Rico, this is what we know as ‘life,’” Eduardo Perez, a former Major League baseball player and ESPN commentator who was hosting the news conference, told those gathered.

The blackout once again highlighted the fragile nature of Puerto Rico’s power grid, which even after more than $2 billion in repairs managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has not been steady.

Power has gone out in the San Juan metropolitan area at least four times since the storm, forcing Puerto Ricans to spend thousands of dollars to fuel generators. Many residents have left all together: nearly 300 schools are expected to close because of a sharp drop in enrollment.

People are afraid to buy more than a few days of food, and they complain that the constant power failures and surges in voltage have ruined household appliances.

José J. Villamil, an economist who works for a disaster management firm, said the blackouts made it very difficult for businesses to move forward because they keep having to spend money on things like voltage regulators.

“At the individual level, an immediate reaction is that gas stations suddenly have lines of cars waiting to fill up,” he said. “The reason? People have lost confidence that the problem will be resolved.”

Juan de Jiménez Quiñones, 55, said it was like living in another era.

“It’s hasn’t been easy, man,” he said at the San Juan municipal hospital where he was visiting his wife. “You know what’s it like to cook your meals on firewood? It’s like country living.”

The buzz of the generators could be heard as he smoked his cigarette. “Oh God, help us,” said a man from outside the hospital’s sliding glass doors.

Wednesday’s blackout did not really affect Mr. Jiménez: Though the hurricane was seven months ago, his power had never been restored.

Mr. González said the blackout occurred after a large excavator operated by a subcontractor, working to pick up a fallen 140-foot transmission tower in a rural area, got too close to a high-voltage line, which led to a discharge of energy. As a protection measure, the line and the power plant it led to automatically went out of service. But then the other power-generating plants in the south went down, too.

“It took out all the units in the south,” Mr. González said.

The power in Puerto Rico is generated in the south and largely consumed in the north, a situation which leaves long transmission lines vulnerable to damage. The power company, commonly known as Prepa, has not yet been able to build backup systems to avoid massive power failures when something goes wrong, Mr. González said.

The subcontractor operating the excavator was D. Grimm Inc., a company that Puerto Rico officials also blamed for a failure last week that knocked out power to about half the island. The company, which had been subcontracted by Cobra Acquisitions, was fired, Mr. González said.

D. Grimm executives did not return several messages seeking comment. Reached on his cellphone, the chief operating officer said: “I don’t know anything about that,” and the line went dead.

A website for arborists showed the company had advertised for workers to help clear difficult terrain by hand in Puerto Rico. The offer was for $30 an hour, working 10-hour days and seven-day weeks. Commenters on the site balked at the low pay for such treacherous work.

“Despite the frailty of the existing electrical infrastructure system, Cobra is dedicated to the difficult work that lies ahead and continues to work around-the-clock with Prepa and the citizens of Puerto Rico to repair the entire infrastructure system to prevent outages such as this one from affecting the entire population on the island,” Mammoth Energy, the Oklahoma City company that owns Cobra, said in a statement.

There were no injuries, the company said.

The failure on April 12 occurred after a tree fell on the main line to the capital, San Juan. The tree fell as crews working to restore power tried to clear land near Cayey.

Ricardo L. Ramos, the former executive director of the power company who was forced to resign in November over his handling of the restoration, said that the cascade of line failures should not have occurred, based on the design of the grid. Even if one power plant overloaded, he said, the automatic shut-offs should have kicked in only in the affected area.

“The protection system has to be looked at carefully,” Mr. Ramos said in a phone interview. “The system was fragile even before the hurricane. As I described it, it was a junker.”

Leo Del Valle, 54, who lives and works in Caguas, said he went three months without power after Maria. He went home briefly after work on Wednesday and took an ice-cold shower. If the blackout lasts longer than a two days, he said, the food in his refrigerator will go to waste. “Your day-to-day changes completely,” he said. “This wears on you psychologically.”

During his power loss at his home after the hurricane, he said, he probably spent thousands on generators and fuel. His father-in-law spent over $5,000. Mr. Del Valle was more judicious and limited himself to only nine hours a day of generator use.

He noted that hurricane season starts soon.

“If we get hit again, it’ll be a disaster,” he said. “Total chaos.”

Hurricane season starts June 1.

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Puerto Rico Is Once Again Hit by an Islandwide Blackout - New York Times

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New York Times

Puerto Rico Is Once Again Hit by an Islandwide Blackout
New York Times
SAN JUAN, P.R. — An electrical contractor working to restore power in Puerto Rico accidentally knocked out a major transmission line on Wednesday, leaving the entire island without power nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the ...
Puerto Rico just lost power yet again in total blackoutUSA TODAY
Islandwide blackout hits Puerto Rico nearly seven months after Hurricane MariaNBCNews.com
Puerto Rico Oversight Board Plan Sees Biggest Budget SurplusBloomberg
NPR -ESPN -CNN -MassLive.com
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Story image for total blackout hits puerto rico wsj from Wall Street Journal

Blackout Hits All of Puerto Rico

Wall Street Journal-17 hours ago
Several large power outages have hit Puerto Rico in recent months, but Wednesday was the first time since the Category 4 storm struck on Sept. 20 that the U.S. territory has experienced a full island-wide blackout. It snarled traffic across the island, forced dozens of businesses with no generators to ...
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CityLab

Puerto Rico hit by first island-wide blackout since Hurricane Maria

BBC News-12 hours ago
Puerto Rico has suffered an island-wide power outage nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island's infrastructure and power grid. The US territory's power authority, known as Prepa, said it was working to restore service to almost 3.4 million people within 24 to 36 hours. Prepa said an excavator ...
Puerto Rico suffers islandwide blackout; Officials estimate up to 36 ...
<a href="http://AccuWeather.com" rel="nofollow">AccuWeather.com</a>-15 hours ago
Story image for total blackout hits puerto rico from WLS-TV

Island-wide blackout hits Puerto Rico; officials probe cause

WLS-TV-18 hours ago
Several large power outages have hit Puerto Rico in recent months, but Wednesday was the first time since the Category 4 storm struck on Sept. 20 that the U.S. territory has experienced a full island-wide blackout. It snarled traffic across the island, forced dozens of businesses with no generators to ...
Puerto Rico Loses Power — Again
Hawaiipublicradio-16 hours ago
Story image for total blackout hits puerto rico from Business Insider

An island-wide power outage just hit Puerto Rico — the first since ...

Business Insider-16 hours ago
Several large power outages have hit Puerto Rico in recent months, but Wednesday was the first time since the Category 4 storm struck on Sept. 20 that the U.S. territory has experienced a full island-wide blackout. It snarled traffic across the island, forced dozens of businesses with no generators to ...
Story image for total blackout hits puerto rico from USA TODAY

Waco 25 years later, Puerto Rico and NFL schedule: 5 things to ...

USA TODAY-2 hours ago
Power company officials are working to restore electricity in Puerto Rico Thursday after a toppled transmission line caused a total blackout on the island. Puerto ... PREPA's interim director Justo González said Wednesday that Cobra Energy, a U.S. private contractor, hit the transmission line with a crane.
Story image for total blackout hits puerto rico from TIME
TIME

Major Puerto Rico outage comes as post-hurricane clean-up efforts ...

ThinkProgress-Apr 13, 2018
A major power outage hit Puerto Rico on Thursday, a day after federal officials told lawmakers in Washington that efforts to restore electricity to residents of the island are nearing completion. ... When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico the morning of September 20, it knocked the island into a total blackout.
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OnPolitics Today: Millions of Americans on an island without power

USA TODAY-10 hours ago
... Montana and New Hampshire combined — found themselves in a total blackout Wednesday as a toppled transmission line left the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico powerless again. The island's ailing power structure is still reeling from a devastating hit from Hurricane Maria last September. Tens of thousands ...
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Take an early look at the front page of The Wall Street Journal
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Posted by WSJ on Thursday, April 19th, 2018 9:30am
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