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US Puerto Ricans Fear Extended Blackout After Hurricane Fiona

04:40  25 september  2022
04:40  25 september  2022 Source:   nytimes.com

All of Puerto Rico without power as Hurricane Fiona batters island

  All of Puerto Rico without power as Hurricane Fiona batters island Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico's southwest coast on Sunday after causing an island-wide power blackout and threatening to dump “historic” levels of rain.Hundreds of people were evacuated or rescued across the island as floodwaters rose swiftly. Rushing rivers of brown water enveloped cars, first floors and even an airport runway in the island’s southern region.

SAN JUAN, P.R. — Michelle Rivera trudged slowly up the stairs of her apartment building, stopping to collect her breath and regain the strength to carry one more gallon of water to her home on the eighth floor. It was Friday, the sixth day of a power blackout in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona.

Dennis Rodríguez’s home, in the center of San Juan, has been without power since Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico last week. © Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times Dennis Rodríguez’s home, in the center of San Juan, has been without power since Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico last week.

“I’m so tired,” said Ms. Rivera, 41, as she prepared to spend another night in the dark. “Exhausted of going up and down.”

The rank smell of rotting food filled the stairs and hallways. The staircase, in the middle of the 14-story Jardines de Francia building in the San Juan neighborhood of Hato Rey, had no emergency lighting. Ms. Rivera and her neighbors in the building’s more than 100 units climbed the steps carefully, with the help of flashlights and cellphones.

'It's not normal': Puerto Ricans are still without power nearly a week after Hurricane Fiona and LUMA, the island's electric supplier, has given few answers, report says

  'It's not normal': Puerto Ricans are still without power nearly a week after Hurricane Fiona and LUMA, the island's electric supplier, has given few answers, report says "They have not given a convincing explanation of what the problem is," a University of Puerto Rico professor told the AP.Puerto Rican food is known for its heartiness and good seasoning. The plantain is one of the island's most versatile crops, and serves as the base for mofongo, a mashed dish with garlic, broth, and a choice of protein.

A resident of the Jardines de Francia building walked up five flights of stairs as her granddaughter lit the way with her phone. © Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times A resident of the Jardines de Francia building walked up five flights of stairs as her granddaughter lit the way with her phone.

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The building not only did not have power since early Sunday morning, but it also had no running water since there was no electricity to run the pumps.

About half of Puerto Rico’s 1.5 million electrical customers remained without electricity on Saturday, nearly a week after Hurricane Fiona, a Category 1 storm, caused widespread flooding and mudslides. At least three people died and two were injured this week in accidents related to the power outage. A candle fire burned down a house in San Juan, killing two and injuring one. Another person died and another was sent to the hospital after being intoxicated with fumes from a generator. (On Saturday, the Puerto Rican government said up to 16 people overall may have died as a direct or indirect result of the storm, though at least a dozen of those cases were still being investigated.)

Puerto Rico's schools struggled long before Hurricane Fiona. Now they need more help

  Puerto Rico's schools struggled long before Hurricane Fiona. Now they need more help Puerto Rico's schools have seen many shutdowns in recent years. Hurricane Fiona could create another setback for student achievement.On Friday, Hurricane Fiona was on its way toward Northeastern Canada after causing heavy downpour and torrential waves in Bermuda and leaving Puerto Rico with damaging winds and torrential rains that led to devastating infrastructure collapse, widespread blackouts, detrimental flooding and at least four human deaths in its path. The full scope of Hurricane Fiona’s damage to Puerto Rican school buildings was still being measured and many that were unaffected were being used to shelter the displaced.

A darkened street in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan on Friday. © Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times A darkened street in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan on Friday.

Restoring power after a hurricane can take time anywhere. But Puerto Rico, with its aged and fragile grid, is especially vulnerable to both outages and extensive recovery time. Having lived through months without electricity after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that ripped through the island five years ago, weary Puerto Ricans — who pay some of the highest electricity rates in the United States — say they have little patience to accept another prolonged blackout after Hurricane Fiona.

“Do you think it’s fair that you pay so much to not have electricity?” said Dennis Rodríguez, 59, one of Ms. Rivera’s neighbors, who said monthly bills have jumped from $80 to more than $200 over the past year. “I can bet you that the power bill will arrive on time.”

Hurricane Fiona caused catastrophic floods across Puerto Rico, but the damage on the island’s power grid was not as evident as it was after Hurricane Maria, when it seemed as if the wind had knocked over every post and shredded every line. Some residents have started to protest the slow progress of the restoration.

A week without power after Fiona, Puerto Ricans experience echoes of Hurricane Maria

  A week without power after Fiona, Puerto Ricans experience echoes of Hurricane Maria A week after Hurricane Fiona devastated Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans still without power and water feel they're back to five years ago after Hurricane Maria.Beyond that small area, which includes a few streets in the urban center and a main traffic light, the rest was a vast darkness.

On Friday, former employees of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the public utility that runs power generation, urged Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi to let them work on power restoration. The ex-workers criticized LUMA Energy, the private company that has been in charge of power transmission and distribution since last year, for the slow progress — and reminded Mr. Pierluisi that the extended power failure significantly contributed to some 3,000 people dying after Hurricane Maria. Several mayors have expressed discontent and one, in the San Juan suburb of Bayamón, said he would hire crews of former PREPA linemen to get to work.

Ana María Santos, with her granddaughter Carla, was storing her insulin in a small freezer next to her refrigerator, neither of which had power. © Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times Ana María Santos, with her granddaughter Carla, was storing her insulin in a small freezer next to her refrigerator, neither of which had power.

LUMA executives have said they have the necessary crews to restore the grid.

In the days since the storm hit, hospitals, supermarkets, businesses and residents have had trouble finding diesel to fuel their generators, forcing some to turn them on for only a few hours a day. Others have seen their generators fail, as what happened to a building in the suburb of Guaynabo, where residents were stranded without elevators in a 27-story building, without water or electricity, until a backup generator was brought in a day later.

Biden administration 'playing for time' over Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico

  Biden administration 'playing for time' over Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico After Hurricane Fiona tore through Puerto Rico last week, President Joe Biden said he was “laser-focused” on the crisis and pledged to do “everything, everything we can.” Now, calls are mounting for Biden to waive a labor union-backed shipping rule that would speed fuel transport to the island, where the devastation has led to major power outages.Lifting the century-old Jones Act would allow a ship loaded with diesel fuel idling nearby to dock on the fuel-strapped island.

Of the 68 hospitals on the main island in the Puerto Rico archipelago, 15 to 20 were still without power and operating on generators on Friday, said Jaime Plá Cortés, president of the Puerto Rico Hospital Association.

Mr. Plá Cortés said that several hospitals installed backup generators after Hurricane Maria, when some had to rely on them for more than five months. But the machines need fuel to run.

Without saying that there is a fuel shortage or disruption in distribution, Mr. Pierluisi ordered the Puerto Rico National Guard on Friday to take control of diesel distribution to hospitals, supermarkets and water facilities. On Saturday, about one-fifth of an estimated 1.2 million customers of the water utility did not have service, mainly because of lack of power in water plants.

Edan Rivera Rodríguez, the secretary of consumer affairs who is in charge of overseeing fuel supplies, said in an interview on Friday that though there had been distribution issues at a couple of ports, Puerto Rico had 10.2 million gallons — or 11 days’ worth — of diesel supply. He was expecting that number to more than double with the arrival that same day of a cargo ship filled with 13 million more gallons of diesel.

Usually, among the five private fuel importers in Puerto Rico, the island has up to a 30-day diesel supply, Mr. Rivera Rodríguez said.

Tropical Storm Ian still pounding Florida in '500-year flooding event'; 2.6M without power: Live updates

  Tropical Storm Ian still pounding Florida in '500-year flooding event'; 2.6M without power: Live updates A section of the Sanibel Causeway collapsed into San Carlos Bay, cutting off access to the barrier island. Tropical Storm Ian updates.The death toll was rising and residents desperately sought rescue Thursday as historically powerful Hurricane Ian, now a tropical storm, hammered Florida with heavy rain and strong winds, one of the strongest systems in U.S. history.

But for residents of buildings like Jardines de Francia, assurances that more diesel is coming soon provide little relief. The building does not have a generator, unlike many high-rises in Puerto Rico.

The lack of access to essential services such as electricity and water has affected the physical and mental health of Ms. Rivera and her neighbors. Diabetics store their insulin, which is supposed to be kept cool, in powerless refrigerators. One neighbor suffered an anxiety attack at night this week, apparently overcome by the post-hurricane stress, Ms. Rivera said.

Some residents pay $5, $10 or $40 for people to bring up their groceries and water. One neighbor bought a small $1,050 inverter generator this week, paid someone to bring it up and installed it in her balcony.

On Friday night, Ms. Rivera, who lives with her 10-year-old daughter and 59-year-old mother in her mother’s apartment, carried up the gallons of water that she uses for drinking, doing dishes and flushing toilets. A nonprofit provided trays of hot meals. She saved one for herself and another for her mother and daughter. Then she went upstairs to visit older neighbors with limited mobility.

A neighbor in her 80s, who lives alone on the 13th floor, cried when Ms. Rivera brought her a plate of hot food.

“I think she had not eaten in a while, because she started crying,” said Ms. Rivera as she stood in the middle of her dark and hot living room. “I told her: ‘Do not cry, stay calm. Tomorrow I’ll bring you more.’”

'We're with you,' Biden tells Puerto Rico ahead of visit .
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday will survey damage from Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people are still without power two weeks after the storm hit. The Category 1 hurricane knocked out electrical power to the U.S. territory of 3.2 million people, 44% of whom live below the poverty line. Power has been restored to about 90% of the island’s 1.47 million customers, but more than 137,000 others, mostly in the hardest hit areas of Puerto Rico’s southern and western regions, continue to struggle in the dark. Another 66,000 customers are without water.

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