Puerto Rican residents are recovering after an extensive blackout hit the island early on Wednesday, according to Time. While neighborhood power outages aren’t unheard of in Puerto Rico, massive blackouts are rather unusual; the recent power outage affected 3. 5 million people, forcing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla to declare a state of emergency.
“While those with power celebrated a return to normalcy, others lamented having to face another night in darkness with no air conditioning in the tropical heat. Most Puerto Ricans don’t have generators, and many expected to once again drag mattresses out to balconies and porches to spend the night outside,” says Danica Coto.
The island’s economy has suffered an incredible crisis, owing more than $70 billion in debt, largely due to an extensive history of Spanish and U.S. colonialism (they were denied a federal bailout). As an American territory, Puerto Rico has as much higher poverty rate than any other U.S. state. For those residents that were able to afford it, hotels were packed with residents after they were being offered special rates during the crisis.
Gov. Garcia reported that at least one person died from exposure to carbon monoxide, while one 76-year-old man was taken to the hospital in good condition after being trapped in an elevator overnight.
According to the Electric Power Authority, a fire at the Aguirre power plant in the town of Salinas knocked out two important transmission lines that operated within the wider grid, causing circuit breakers to shut down immediately as a protective measure.
Gov. Garcia claims that suggestions of maintenance problems that have troubled the power plant are false, claiming the facility has been maintained for years, although the utility is $9 billion in debt, and under suspicion of corruption.
However, residents reject Garcia’s explanation of the blackout. It’s this rejection of political grandstanding that has pushed more Puerto Ricans to migrate to South Florida in lieu of the economic and political chaos plaguing the territory.
Hector Luis Pebellon, a sales manager in Caguas, contradicts Garcia’s public statement. “But I was not surprised. This is something that we were expecting to happen soon. This is something that is caused by the lack of maintenance and the lack of money to invest in the infrastructure. For people that are considering moving from the island, things like this definitely push them further in order to go.”
Pebellon’s family is still without power.