SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico is slowly trying to recover its normal daily rhythms after an historic power blackout that left the entire island without electricity, an incident that has highlighted the fragility of certain obsolete infrastructure.
Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who declared a state of emergency, said at a press conference that 200,000 of the 1.5 million customers of the state-run Electric Power Authority, or AEE, had their power back on by midday although he acknowledged that the public corporation needed to improve its infrastructure.
The island’s top official repeatedly said that the power failure, which left the island practically paralyzed, was due to a problem that could not have been avoided, noting that many people had to wait 48 hours in New York to recover their electric service after a blackout there years ago.
“This is a very serious event,” he said. “The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude.”
“I assume complete responsibility,” Garcia said, adding, “Everyone knows that the company’s maintenance problems began decades ago.”
However, the governor avoided directly answering a question about whether the AEE had a backup system to deal with another such incident.
Garcia Padilla said that the power failure on Wednesday is a sign that the U.S. commonwealth needs to invest its resources in priority issues for the public, such as improving the electric infrastructure, and leave other matters – such as paying off its huge public debt – for a later time.
AEE director Javier Quintana, who ruled out any act of sabotage in the blackout, said that a power surge had occurred – possibly caused by a lightning strike – to which the system’s defense mechanism responded by shutting it down.
He added that an investigation was under way and the results of it must be awaited before authorities and the public can know exactly what happened.
Emergency management authorities also said that several fires broke out on the island when people made improper use of generators during the blackout and one such incident caused the death of a 48-year-old man.
Meanwhile, the president of the island’s sewer system, Alberto Lazaro, said that potable water service had been interrupted for some 340,000 customers due to the blackout.
The capital’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, along with the ports, did not seem to have been affected by the power failure.
Authorities expect electric service to be fully restored on Friday.