In wake of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is ... IN THE DARK
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico
Every night since Hurricane Maria hit, Miguel Martinez and his family have slept on mattresses on the porch to escape the heat inside their dark, stifling home. But it’s nearly impossible to sleep with temperatures in the high 70s.
At least once a night they climb to the roof to catch a hint of breeze. Then the 51-year-old construction worker, his three children and one grandchild climb back down again.
“It’s a heat from hell,” Martinez said. “We don’t have a generator or a fan. We have nothing. The children get desperate. You want just a little bit of cold water, but there’s none.”
The power is still out on nearly all of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria smashed poles, snarled power lines and flooded electricity-generating plants, knocking out a grid that was already considered antiquated compared to the U.S. mainland. Generators are providing power to the fortunate few who have them, but nearly all the island’s 1.6 million electricity customers were still without power Monday and facing many, many hot days and dark nights to come.
Power had been restored to a handful of hospitals and surrounding areas by Monday afternoon but Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario said it will take months to fully restore power to the island.
Authorities are still figuring out the extent of the damage, let alone beginning to repair it.
Utility workers from New York have arrived to help assess the damage, while airplanes and barges are bringing in more generators.
Getting the power back isn’t just a matter of comfort. A long delay will mean even more pain for a Puerto Rican economy that’s already reeling from a decade-long recession. With no power, even more people will leave the island to find better opportunities on the mainland and further drain its workforce. The downed power system is also damaging the tourism industry, which contributed 8 percent to Puerto Rico’s economy last year.
The overwhelming smell of rotting garbage wafted through a working-class part of the Santurce section of San Juan, where 46-year-old construction worker Rafael Santana spent the night in front of a single fan thanks to a neighbor with a generator who was kind enough to throw over a cable so he could have power from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.
By 8 a.m., Santana’s forehead was beaded with sweat as he left home to seek out some shade nearby.
Roberto Ruiz, a 50-year-old handyman, handed a chilled bottle of water that his daughter brought home from her job, which has power, to a neighbor seeking something to drink.
“Look at this! Cold water!” exclaimed 70-year-old Jose Luis Burgos as he took the bottle and looked at it, mesmerized. “We are suffering here.”
Ruiz said he jumps into the shower several times a day to cool off, letting water drip over his body instead of drying off afterward.
Puerto Rico’s power plants were not severely damaged, according to Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
However, 80 percent of the island’s transmission lines are down, and Rossello said it would take up to two years to completely rebuild the infrastructure under normal conditions.
He said the plan is to restore power with some quick fixes to the network and then gradually strengthen it to avoid problems like blackouts and make it less vulnerable to future storms.