Hundreds of thousands of people in Puerto Rico still have no electricity: NPR


In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people still have no power nine days after Hurricane Fiona. In many communities, patience is running out with the island’s power company as some towns and villages begin to take power restoration into their own hands. NPR’s Adrian Florido reports.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: After Fiona, Ricky Mendez, the mayor of the western coastal town of Isabela, said if Puerto Rico’s electric company hasn’t restored power to his town within a week , he would form his own brigades to do so. The power company threatened legal action, but that didn’t stop him.

RICKY MENDEZ: (speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: On Monday, he was supervising about 20 workers, many of whom were former electric utility workers, as they replaced several downed power lines and performed other fixes on his city’s grid.

MENDEZ: (speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: “I made the call to the workers and people responded,” he said. “I’m happy because my city now has some hope that it will pull through.” He said he has received calls from many elderly residents in his town, fearing they will be waiting for power for months, as they did after Hurricane Maria five years ago.

MENDEZ: (speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: “This storm was not like Hurricane Maria,” Mendez said. “The damage was not as severe, yet the power company was slow to respond.” Even before this week, there was widespread dissatisfaction in Puerto Rico with the island’s electric utility, Luma Energy. It’s the private company the government hired last year to take over the public network, which was in shambles after decades of neglect, corruption and then Hurricane Maria. When he took over, Luma warned that strengthening the network would take years. But patience with the company very quickly ran out.



FLORIDO: In the days following the storm, protest songs emerged. “My stove does not work”, sang this musician plena on Monday evening. “I don’t have cold water. They lie about how many people got their electricity back.”



FLORIDO: “Luma can go to hell”, he sings. Luma officials say they are actually making rapid progress on restoring power, given the fragility of the grid. After initially refusing to predict how long the restoration would take, the firm now says more than three-quarters of the island should be powered by Friday. Daniel Hernandez, a senior Luma official, told a briefing this week that the company was working closely with the government agency that runs the island’s power plants and asked people to stay calm.


DANIEL HERNANDEZ: (speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: In a statement late Monday, Luma also pleaded with local officials not to take over network repairs or risk delaying the restoration effort and injuring untrained people. But many mayors are tapping into the large contingent of former government line workers, who have intimate knowledge of the maze and the grid, but who refused to work for Luma after the private company took over. William Miranda Torres is the mayor of Caguas, one of the largest cities on the island.

WILLIAM MIRANDA TORRES: (speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: “It’s not about taking jobs from Luma,” the mayor said. “It’s about looking at the power lines, finding out where the problems are and making small fixes so that when the power comes back, families don’t have to wait for days or weeks.” In the town of Isabela, 83-year-old Carmen Rosa Gonzalez (ph) has been waiting for nine days in the sweltering heat of her small home, with her 85-year-old husband. He uses an oxygen machine.

CARMEN ROSA GONZALEZ: (speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: “Without his oxygen,” Gonzalez said, “he starts coughing a lot.” And it’s starting to scare him. She said she doesn’t care how she gets the power back, whether Luma restores it or her mayor does. She just needs to get it back. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Isabela, Puerto Rico.


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