Most of Puerto Rico endured a second night without electricity Thursday following the total collapse of the island’s power grid.
All it took was a fire at one power plant Wednesday to shut down a grid that provides power to 1.5 million homes and businesses – or 3.5 million people. Of the 1.5 million homes and businesses, about 390,000 had power restored by Thursday evening.
“This is an apocalypse,” resident Jose Tavela told the Associated Press.
The blackout left traffic lights, grocery stores and gas stations – essentials of a modern life – inoperable.
“Puerto Rico back to the stone age,” @ApagonPR tweeted.
State of Emergency Declared
Puerto Rico’s governor urged caution and declared a state of emergency. He also activated the National Guard.
“Given that the system is so old, numerous setbacks could occur,” Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said during a press conference. “The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude.”
The power outage threw the island into chaos and caused at least 15 fires due to faulty generators. No one was hurt in the fires, but at least one person died because of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator, USA Today reported.
Long lines formed outside gas stations and at hotels that did have generators, AP reported. Many people were sleeping outside on mattresses because air conditioning was no longer available. In the capital of San Juan, commuters were stuck because subway trains were not running.
“Puerto Rico is not prepared for something like this,” resident Celestino Ayala Santiago said. Santiago spent Wednesday night sleeping in his car because it was too hot inside.
With traffic lights out, police had to direct traffic the old-fashioned way — by hand. Employees at the international airport were reduced to filling out tickets by hand.
The electricity went out after a fire at a major power plant in Salinas knocked out two transmission lines. That tripped circuit breakers, causing the entire system to shut down.
Aging Infrastructure Sparked Blackout
Puerto Rico’s grid, like that in much of the mainland United States, is outdated. The utility is $9 billion in debt and lacked the funds to update it. Padilla’s political rival, Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon of the New Progressive Party, had a solution: Ask Washington for help.
“On behalf of the 3.4 million American citizens residing in Puerto Rico, I asked the president to declare Puerto Rico an emergency zone, which empowers the federal government to use its resources to stabilize the electrical system of Puerto Rico and so guarantee service to citizens,” Colon said in a press release.
Many Puerto Ricans were outraged because they already pay electric bills that are twice the average on the US mainland. Many of them took to social media to demand where their money is going, The Orlando Sentinel reported.
Perhaps those of us on the mainland should be asking the same question?
Do you think the U.S. is prepared for a major blackout? Share your thoughts in the section below: