Puerto Rico begins to restore power after storm destroys grid


Power in parts of Puerto Rico is slowly being restored on Sunday after Atlantic Storm Fiona churned the island as a Category 1 hurricane, knocking out electricity to all of U.S. territory and causing “catastrophic damage,” Governor Pedro Pierluisi said.

With sustained winds of 85 mph and dumping massive amounts of rain on the island, the storm damaged a bridge, washed away and blocked roads, laid down power lines and sent more than 1,000 people to emergency shelters. There were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths, although communications and travel were hampered by the heavy rain and wind.

“The whole situation is delicate and sad,” Pierluisi said at a press conference, begging people to stay at home.

Josue Colon, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or Prepa, said the storm caused an automatic shutdown at power plants that cut off electricity to the entire island of 3.1 million people. But those generators came back online late Sunday, and workers prioritized restoring power to hospitals and critical infrastructure.

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A generator failure at the flagship of the island’s cancer center required the evacuation of several patients, officials said.

By early evening, it was unclear how much power had been restored. Luma Energy, which manages the island’s troubled electrical grid, warned it could take “several days” to fully restore power due to the “magnitude and scope” of the damage.

Fiona was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane on Sunday when it briefly made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico. While Fiona’s eye is now above open water on the Dominican Republic, the storm is expected to dump rain on Puerto Rico well into Monday. It is also expected to drench the eastern Dominican Republic, which is under a hurricane warning, by 4-8 inches.

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“These rains will cause life-threatening flash flooding and urban flooding in Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in higher elevations,” the National Hurricane Center said.

The Biden administration on Sunday approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond.

Also on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would? declare a state of natural disaster on the French territory of Guadeloupe, where Fiona left a dead person.

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Fiona comes nearly five years after a powerful Category 4 hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, causing nearly 3,000 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage.

The island has one of the most expensive and least reliable energy sources of any US jurisdiction. After Maria, it took the public electric company nearly a year to fully restore service, Pierluisi said.

“We don’t want it to be like that again,” he said. “We will do everything we can to restore the power supply as soon as possible.”

Photo: Aftermath of Fiona in Capesterre-Belle-Eau, the French island of Guadeloupe, on September 17. Photographer: Lara Balais/TBEN/Getty Images

Copyright 2022 Bloomberg.

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