Puerto Rico Could Be Left Without Electricity for Months. Here’s What to Know

On Wednesday, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico directly, landing as a Category 4 hurricane in the town of Yabucoa with sustained winds of up to 155 mph (250 km/h). The storm destroyed hundred of homes and knocked out power across the island, reports the Associated Press (AP). Ricardo Rossello, the island’s governor, has imposed a daily curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. through Saturday to allow for recovery operations.

The entire island is now in a total blackout as a result of the storm, with recovery in some parts not expected for an extended period of time. “Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” warned Abner Gomez, the island’s emergency management director, according to AP. Here’s what you need to know.

What happened?

Power was gradually knocked out as Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, according to Vox. About half of all customers of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the island’s sole power supplier, reported a loss of power at 4 a.m. local time Wednesday; by noon, the outage spread to all of PREPA’s 1.5 million customers.

How could a storm knock out power across the whole island?

Puerto Rico’s power grid was already in bad shape even before the 2017 hurricane season. PREPA’s power plants are 44 years old on average, reports Reuters — in contrast with the industry-wide average of 18 years.

The company, which filed for bankruptcy in July, called its own system “degraded and unsafe,” saying in a fiscal plan released this April that “years of under-investment have led to severe degradation of infrastructure,” according to Reuters.

According to Vox, PREPA also faces a manpower shortage that, even before this hurricane season, was already impeding its day-to-day maintenance.

The general economic situation is also grim. Puerto Rico’s finances have been in dire straits for years. The island has yet to emerge from a decade-long recession, and unemployment stands at 11%. Its government entered a process similar to bankruptcy protection in May in a bid to restructure its debt load, currently in excess of $70 billion.

How long is it expected to last?

The combined effects of crumbling infrastructure, financial woes and Hurricane Irma’s impact mean that restoring power across the island is expected to be a difficult process.

“It depends on the damage to the infrastructure,” Rossello told CNN Wednesday evening. “I’m afraid it’s probably going to be severe. If it is … we’re looking…

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