Puerto Rico plunged into darkness after a power plant fire

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A major power outage hit Puerto Rico late Wednesday, plunging nearly 350,000 customers into darkness after a fire broke out at one of the largest power plants on the US mainland.

One of the biggest outages in recent months was the blackout to the island’s collapsed power grid, which has seen periodic blackouts get worse in the past few years. The blackout sparked a collective groan from people across Puerto Rico, as many who depend on insulin or respiratory treatments worried again about how long it would take.

“Apagon!” Several frustrated customers wrote on social media, using the Spanish word for blackout.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi said priority will be given to hospitals and other institutions such as Tweeted: “I urge everyone to remain calm.”

Puerto Rico’s health minister said generators in all hospitals and health centers are running and have adequate fuel, adding that coronavirus vaccines remain properly stored at the correct temperature.

A transformer fire caused a major blackout in Puerto Rico.
A transformer fire caused a major blackout in Puerto Rico.
Twitter / AEEOnline

Transportation officials said transport crews evacuated passengers from the island’s rapid transit system and transported them to their destinations via buses.

Education officials said they will soon announce whether public school classes will be canceled on Thursday, frustrating many parents who were worried they might not know if their cell phones were dead and they were unable to charge them.

Car headlights are seen by people walking in the dark in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a major power outage on the island.
Car headlights are seen by people walking in the dark in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a major power outage on the island.
AFP via Getty Images
Two women look at a mobile phone in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a major blackout.
Two women look at a mobile phone in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a major blackout.
AFP via Getty Images

Luma, a private company that took over transmission and distribution of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority last year, said in a statement that power may not be restored until Thursday, “given the scale and scope” of the outage.

The power grid suffered from an island-wide blackout, which was likely caused by a faulty circuit breaker at the Costa Sur power plant. “It is not clear to us the exact cause at this time,” the company said.

Costa Sur is one of the island’s four major power stations.

Puerto Rico’s fire department worked late into the night to put out the flames as frustration and anger continued to grow over a power outage.

Karian Montul, 36, said she was at a clothing store in southern Puerto Rico when the lights went out. She said the store’s generators failed to run, so she and dozens of other customers had to leave their purchases behind and go home.

Motorists drive at night on a San Juan road without street lights after a major blackout hit the island of Puerto Rico.
Motorists drive at night on a San Juan road without street lights after a major blackout hit the island of Puerto Rico.
AFP via Getty Images
Puerto Rican flags hang from a balcony in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a power outage.
Puerto Rican flags hang from a balcony in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a power outage.
AFP via Getty Images

She told me someone nearby screamed, “The lights went out so bad?! It couldn’t be.”

Montul said she doesn’t have a generator at home and hopes the power will come back soon so the food in her fridge doesn’t spoil.

Luma said she will release additional information as soon as she gets more details. When she took over transmission and distribution in June, the governor said at the time that the company pledged to reduce outages by 30% and the length of outages by 40%. That same month, a major fire at a substation in the capital, San Juan, left hundreds of thousands without power.

Another power plant fire in September 2016 caused an island-wide blackout. A year later, Hurricane Maria hit, destroying the island’s fragile electrical grid and leaving some customers without power for about a year. Emergency repairs have since been made, but reconstruction efforts have yet to begin.

Additionally, Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority is trying to get out of bankruptcy and has about $9 billion in public debt it is trying to restructure. The facility has long struggled with mismanagement, corruption and outdated infrastructure that has not been maintained.