Puerto Rico Begins Restoring Power After Storm Snuffs Grid

By Jim Wyss | September 19, 2022

Power is slowly being restored to parts of Puerto Rico Sunday after Atlantic storm Fiona clipped the island as a Category 1 hurricane, knocking out electricity to the entire US territory and causing “catastrophic damage,” Governor Pedro Pierluisi said.

Packing sustained winds of 85 mph and dumping massive amounts of rain on the island, the storm damaged a bridge, washed away and blocked roads, downed power lines and sent more than 1,000 people to emergency shelters. There were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths, though communications and travel were hampered by the heavy rain and wind.

“The entire situation is delicate and sad,” Pierluisi said during a press conference, pleading with people to stay home.

Josue Colon, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or Prepa, said the storm had triggered an automatic shutdown at power plants that cut electricity to the entire island of 3.1 million people. But those generators were coming back on line late Sunday, and workers were prioritizing restoring energy to hospitals and critical infrastructure.

A generator failure at the island’s flagship cancer center required the evacuation of several patients, officials said.

By early evening, it was unclear how much power had been restored. Luma Energy, which manages the island’s troubled power grid, warned that it could take “several days” to completely restore power due to the “magnitude and reach” of the damage.

Fiona was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane Sunday as it briefly made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico. While Fiona’s eye is now over open water and headed toward the Dominican Republic, the storm is expected to dump rain on Puerto Rico well into Monday. It’s also expected to drench the eastern Dominican Republic, which is under a hurricane warning, with 4-8 inches.

“These rains will produce life-threatening flash flooding and urban flooding across Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the National Hurricane Center said.

The Biden administration on Sunday approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond.

Also Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would declare a state of natural disaster in the French territory of Guadeloupe, where Fiona left one person dead.

Fiona comes almost five years after a powerful Category 4 hurricane, Maria, slammed into Puerto Rico, leading to nearly 3,000 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage.

The island has some of the most expensive and least reliable energy of any US jurisdiction. After Maria, it took the public power utility almost a year to completely restore service, Pierluisi said.

“We don’t want it to be like that again,” he said. “We are going to do everything possible to restore power as quickly as possible.”

Photo: Aftermath of Fiona in Capesterre-Belle-Eau, the French island of Guadeloupe, on Sept. 17. Photographer: Lara Balais/AFP/Getty Images

Topics Windstorm

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