“Welcome to Puerto Rico, this is what we know as ‘life’
Puerto Rico once again was plunged into darkness earlier this week after a power blackout affected almost every islander, nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria caused havoc and fury.
The blackout served as a reminder that Congress has yet to appropriate the funding the U.S. island needs to fully repair its infrastructure, including its power grid. Before the latest power outage, electricity had been restored to most of the island, but three percent of the island’s 3.4 million residents remained without power.
The blackout drew the ire of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, whose Chairwoman, Rep. Michelle Lujan, D-NM, released the following statement:
“It is unconscionable that, more than half a year after this devastation, millions of our fellow Americans continue to live under intolerable conditions – without access to clean water, food and electricity.
“The Trump administration failed Puerto Rico in the days and weeks following the deadly hurricane, and continues to fail and neglect the people of Puerto Rico. It is disgraceful that one of the most powerful nations in the world has utterly failed in helping our fellow Americans. We must continue to shed light on the work that remains to be done on the island. We must not leave our fellow American citizens behind.
“We urgently need this Republican-controlled Congress to appropriate the necessary disaster relief funds required to rebuild and improve Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure. This first step is critical in preventing future blackouts and ensuring our fellow citizens have a path toward recovery.”
The outage came as two major league baseball teams, the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins, were playing a first-of-its-kind, regular season baseball series on the island. A press conference associated with that event was interrupted by the blackout, leading to this quote from former baseball great and ESPN commentator Eduardo Perez, who was hosting the press conference:
“Welcome to Puerto Rico, this is what we know as ‘life,’” Perez said, according to The New York Times, which reported extensively on the outage.
The Times reported that the blackout once again highlighted the fragile nature of Puerto Rico’s power grid, which even after more than $2 billion in repairs managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has not been steady. Puerto Rican officials have requested $94.4 billion to rebuild, but only a small fraction of that has been agreed to by Congress.
In February, the Senate approved an aid package for Puerto Rico which allocated $16 billion for recovery, but critics say it falls well short of the funds needed. The island has requested $14.7 billion to rebuild its power grid alone, but only $2 billion was authorized for that purpose. In the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill Congress appropriated an additional $7.9 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund; however, it is unclear how much of this money will go to relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
According to the Washington Post, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans living in the island’s east and central regions had yet to see their lights come back on even before the latest blackout. Mayor Angel Perez Otero of Guaynabo, a jurisdiction near San Juan on the northern coast of the island, told the Washington Post that his office was inundated by calls from residents about the blackout.
“They are having flashbacks to what they have already lived,” Perez Otero said. “We’ve already experienced too many of these, and frustration. It’s worrying how fragile our power grid is.”
The power blackout, many have noted, occurred less than a month and a half before the beginning of the next hurricane season.