Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Puerto Rico plunged into darkness after power station fire

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) – A major power outage hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday, plunging hundreds of thousands of customers into darkness after a fire erupted at one of the largest power plants in the United States (US) territory.

The outage was one of the biggest in recent months for the island’s crumbling electrical grid, which has seen its periodic blackouts grow worse the last few years.

The outage elicited a collective groan across the island of 3.2 million people, with many who depend on insulin or respiratory therapies once again worried about how long it would last.

Apagón! wrote many frustrated customers across social media, using the Spanish word for outage.

Luma, a private company that took over transmission and distribution of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority last year, called it an island-wide power outage.

However, the state power company’s website said nearly 350,000 clients out of nearly 1.5 million were without lights.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi said priority would be given to hospitals and other institutions as he tweeted: “I urge everyone to remain calm.”

Streets in the dark after a power outage in San Juan, Puerto Rico. PHOTO: AFP

Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary said generators at all hospitals and health centres were functioning and had enough fuel, adding that coronavirus vaccines remained properly stored at the correct temperature.

Transportation officials said crews evacuated passengers from the island’s rapid transit system and took them to their destinations via buses.

Meanwhile, long lines formed at some gas stations as those with generators sought to refill them.

Luma said in a statement that power might not be restored soon, given the size and scope of the outage. “The power grid has suffered a massive island-wide blackout, potentially caused by a circuit breaker failure at the Costa Sur generation plant. We are not clear on the exact cause at this time,” the company said. Costa Sur is one of the island’s four main power plants.

Puerto Rico’s fire department worked late into the night to put out the blaze as frustration and anger over yet another blackout continued to grow.

Luma said it would release additional information once it had more details. When it took over transmission and distribution in June, the governor at the time said the company had pledged to reduce power interruptions by 30 per cent and the length of outages by 40 per cent.

That same month, a large fire at a substation in the capital of San Juan left hundreds of thousands without power.

Another fire at a power plant in September 2016 sparked an island-wide blackout. A year later, Hurricane Maria hit, razing the island’s frail electrical grid and leaving some customers without power for nearly a year. Emergency repairs have since been made, but reconstruction efforts have yet to start.

In addition, Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority is trying to emerge from bankruptcy and holds some USD9 billion in public debt that it is trying to restructure.

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