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Power Restoration In Puerto Rico Experiences Setback With Blackout in San Juan


In Puerto Rico, an explosion and fire at an electrical substation put large parts of the capital, San Juan, into darkness on Sunday night. Surrounding cities were affected, too. These are places that had already had their electricity restored after Hurricane Maria. By this afternoon, most had power again, but it was still a setback in the months-long effort to restore electricity across the island. NPR's Adrian Florido reports from San Juan.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The power outage spread through northern Puerto Rico as substations went down like dominoes. The facility that caught fire, called Monacillo, provides power to several substations, so as those went offline, officials say a total of 180,000 homes and businesses went dark. Valeria Torres, a first-year university student, says when the lights went out last night, she was home studying for an exam.

VALERIA TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I was studying for my exam, and it was bad because I didn't have any batteries for my flashlight," she says. So she went to bed. When she woke up, the power was back. On Twitter, she saw that the power at her school - the campus of the University of Puerto Rico - was also back. But when she got there, the power was not back. Her professor gave the exam in the dark.

TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Torres says her family went four months without power, just got it back a couple of weeks ago. "We didn't want to lose it again," she says. "You just want the power to stay on." That was the overwhelming sentiment here. The explosion was a jolting reminder the island's electric situation is still unstable, even here in the capital. Photos posted online inspired a sense of deja vu. Pictures showed lines forming at some gas stations as people who'd put the fuel cans for their generators away pulled them back out again.

By this morning, most of the areas that lost power due to the explosion at the substation had gotten it back. Angel Figueroa, president of the utility workers' union, told a local newspaper that a failed breaker appeared to be to blame.


ANGEL FIGUEROA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Figueroa said whether the breaker failed because of a lack of maintenance or if it was for some other reason was not yet clear. A history of poor maintenance is one of the reasons Governor Ricardo Rossello cited last month when he announced his controversial plan to privatize PREPA, the island's public electric utility, by next year.

In the meantime, the effort to restore power across the island hobbles along. Before Sunday's explosion, close to 30 percent of the island's customers still hadn't had their power restored at all. As people in and around the capital took to Twitter to lament Sunday's outage, one woman from the city of Dorado wrote, don't cry about it. My power's been out since September 19, 2017.

Adrian Florido, NPR news, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.