Massive power outage hits Puerto Rico as schools cancelled

Head of newly privatised utility company says ‘we have to be realistic’

<p>The streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the power outage</p>

The streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the power outage

Schools have been shut in Puerto Rico as more than a million customers remain without electricity on the US island territory.

Late on Thursday, the island’s main utility company, LUMA, said it was working to restore power to its customers on the island of 3.2 million following a blackout.

While it was not clear what caused the power outage, officials said work to restore the electricity supply would likely continue into Friday.

“No one can say exactly when”, said LUMA vice president Kevin Acevedo. “We have to be realistic. The system is complex, delicate.” 

The power outage stopped 170,000 Puerto Ricans from receiving water on Thursday, with road and school closures announced by officials.

The department of education said in a tweet: “Due to the fault in the electrical system, tomorrow, Friday, April 8, there will be no classes... however, school directors, custodians, and school canteen employees must report to the campuses starting at 10:00 am.”

Government employees were also told to stay at home on Thursday, with those who are “nonessential” remaining at home. It was unclear if similar action will be taken on Friday.

An electricity generator used during the power outage

A resident of Rio Piedras, a district of San Juan, told reporters she had been shocked by recent energy price rises and that the power outage was another blow for many.

“This is horrible,” said Luisa Rosado, a mother of two.

Puerto Ricans pay among the highest rates for energy in the United States, and the island’s utility company LUMA was only founded last year – taking control from the state-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in June 2021.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island, causing widespread blackouts. Infrastructure improvements were yet to begin, despite some $9bn (£6.9bn) being set aside by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in September 2020.

A cafe in San Juan, Puerto Rico

In a statement to CBS News on Thursday, FEMA said LUMA had not provided the necessary “transmission and distribution projects for evaluation and the approval of construction funds.”

LUMA CEO Wayne Stensby added: “We value our relationship and partnership with FEMA. There is clearly a lot of work to do and we look forward to continuing to work together to get it done for Puerto Rico. This is a goal we share.”

An investigation into the blackout is ongoing.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

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