Sun | Dec 9, 2018

Puerto Ricans return to power grid, but fear for long term

Published:Monday | July 16, 2018 | 12:25 PM
In this July 12, 2018 photo, ladders from the Puerto Rico Power Authority stand amid the trees as workers restore power that was lost due to Hurricane Irma and Maria in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)

ADJUNTAS, Puerto Rico (AP) — It was finally a night to celebrate in the village of Adjuntas which is tucked into the mountains of central Puerto Rico.

People pressed TV remote buttons, clicked on fans and plugged in refrigerators as electricity again flowed into homes that had been without power since two major hurricanes devastated the U.S. territory nearly a year ago.

Lights are slowly coming on for the more than 950 homes and businesses across Puerto Rico that remain without power in hard-to-reach areas.

Repair crews are sometimes forced to dig holes by hand and scale down steep mountainsides to reach damaged light posts.

Electrical poles have to be ferried in one-by-one via helicopter.

It is slow work, and it has stretched nearly two months past the date when officials had promised that everyone in Puerto Rico would be energised.

And even as TVs glow into the night and people like 20-year-old delivery man Steven Vilella once again savor favorite foods like shrimp and Rocky Road ice cream, many fear their newly returned normality could be short-lived.

Turmoil at the island’s power company and recent winds and rains that knocked out electricity to tens of thousands of people at the start of the new hurricane season have them worried.

Puerto Rico’s electrical grid is still shaky after Hurricane Irma brushed past the island as a Category 5 storm last September 6 and then Hurricane Maria made a direct hit as a Category 4 storm two weeks later, damaging up to 75 percent of transmission lines.

More than 52,000 power poles have been installed and thousands of miles of cable secured, with some 180 generators still providing power at key locations.

But Governor Ricardo Rossello warns that there is no backup system yet in case the power goes out again, which it did for up to 47,000 customers when the remnants of what was once Tropical Storm Beryl lashed Puerto Rico with rain and wind in early July.

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