Puerto Rico’s beleaguered power authority blamed the outage on a private contractor who accidentally downed a transmission line during unrelated power restoration work, The Associated Press reported.
Officials said it could take between 24 to 36 hours for power to be restored to nearly 1.5 million customers. Restoring power to hospitals, airports, banks and water pumping systems is the first priority, they added.
The islandwide outage reflects the continued fragility of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, despite a multi-billion dollar recovery effort underway since Hurricane Maria devastated the island seven months ago.
Puerto Rico’s power authority had said earlier Wednesday that electricity had been restored to 97 percent of its customers, The New York Times reported. But just three hours later, the islandwide outage struck.
The blackout comes less than a week after a fallen tree knocked out power for about 870,000 customers. “We are becoming a Third World country,” an unidentified resident in the San Juan area told CNN at the time. “Every time this happens we go into PTSD mode.”
On Wednesday, Puerto Ricans expressed their exasperation at the continued grid troubles.
“This is too much,” Luis Oscar Rivera, whose power was only fully restored less than two months ago, told the AP. “It’s like the first day of Maria all over again.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has been critical of post-Maria recovery efforts, expressed her disdain on Twitter.
In January, the territory’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, said he hoped to sell the utility to the private sector ― a process he said could take about 18 months.
“The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has become a heavy burden on our people, who are now hostage to its poor service and high cost,” Rosselló said in a statement. “What we know today [is] the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority does not work and cannot continue to operate like this.”