11 Months After Hurricane Maria Hit Puerto Rico, Officials Say All Power Is Restored

Aug 15, 2018
Originally published on August 15, 2018 8:17 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was one of the largest blackouts in history. Now nearly 11 months after Hurricane Maria plunged Puerto Rico into darkness, officials there say they are done restoring the island's power. As NPR's Adrian Florido reports, they just flipped the switch on the final home.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: It was in the mountains outside of Ponce in the south of Puerto Rico in a remote community called Real Anon. The home of Jazmin Mendez and Charlie Colon had the distinction of being among the last. Colon turned on a lamp.

(CHEERING)

CHARLIE COLON: (Speaking Spanish).

JAZMIN MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

COLON: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Spanish).

COLON: (Speaking Spanish).

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

COLON: (Speaking Spanish).

MENDEZ: (Laughter).

COLON: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "No more lanterns," Colon said, "no more candles." And with that, Puerto Rico's electric utility PREPA announced that its work restoring power to the island was done. It took almost a year, tens of thousands of new poles, thousands of miles of wire and help from two federal agencies. The restoration was plagued by scandal and delays. It cost some $3 billion. And now that it's done, experts agree the power grid is just as fragile as before the hurricane. This morning, Jose Ortiz, the fifth CEO to head the power utility since the storm, was offering a reality check on local radio station WKAQ. Some homes still don't have power because they're damaged, he said, a few because they're near federal land to which he doesn't have access. And everyone else...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSE ORTIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I'm trying to explain this simply so everyone understands," he said. "This was a lot of patchwork just so we could get the lights back on." "Now," he said, "we have to do it right." Ortiz said that over the next six months, many communities will have their power cut again so workers can fortify repairs that were done in a hurry and not very well. Another priority, Ortiz said, is to actually bring light to Puerto Rico. Though the power is back on, many tourist zones, highways and residential streets still go dark at sundown because light bulbs are out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ORTIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Many of the crews that have been restoring power," Ortiz said, "will now begin restoring illumination." He said the utility needs a hundred thousand bulbs for that. It just placed an order for 20,000. Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.