Lights Turning Back On in Puerto Rico

Friday, September 23, 2016 @ 05:09 PM gHale

The lights are starting to turn back on for residents of Puerto Rico after a huge fire at an electrical plant left most of the island’s 3.5 million people without electricity.

As of Friday customers had power restored in the wake of Wednesday’s blaze. Power is slowing being restored across the island, and the entire system should be back to normal by the end of Friday.

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Rolling power outages will continue even as repairs occur, FEMA said.

The outage occurred after two transmission lines, with power running up to 230,000 volts, failed, the Electric Power Authority said.

Power shut off island-wide as a safety precaution, FEMA said. All of the island’s schools closed down Thursday.

Officials expressed their concern about the system failure.

“This is a very serious event,” Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said of the outage. “The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude. I assume complete responsibility. Everyone knows that the company’s maintenance problems began decades ago.”

Businesses, universities and government offices shuttered early Wednesday, creating chaos on roads. A police officer directing traffic was hit and taken to the hospital. Firefighters extinguished the blaze at the southern power plant, though cause of the fire is still unknown.

Airports, police stations and water plants are expected to receive first priority as power is restored to the island.

The Electric Power Authority said it was trying to determine what caused the fire at the Aguirre power plant in the southern town of Salinas. The fire apparently knocked out two transmission lines that serve the broader grid, which tripped circuit breakers that automatically shut down the flow of power as a preventive measure, officials said. Executive director Javier Quintana said a preliminary investigation suggests an apparent failure on one transmission line that might have been caused by lightning caused the switch to explode.

Garcia rejected suggestions the blackout ended up caused by maintenance problems that have plagued the utility for years, largely a result of the island’s economic and fiscal crisis. He said the switch where the fire happened had been properly maintained.

Puerto Rico’s power company has undergone a drastic financial rehaul, mostly stemming from the $9 billion debt it hopes to restructure amid corruption allegations.