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Puerto Rico plunged into darkness after power plant fire

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A major power outage hit Puerto Rico late Wednesday, plunging nearly 350,000 customers into darkness after a fire broke out at one of the largest power plants in the U.S. territory.

The outage was one of the biggest in recent months for the island’s crumbling power grid, which has seen its periodic blackouts worsen in recent years. The outage elicited a collective groan from the people of Puerto Rico, as many of those dependent on insulin or respiratory therapies once again worried about how long the outage would last.

“Apagon! many frustrated customers wrote on social media, using the Spanish word for breakdown.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi said priority would be given to hospitals and other institutions as he tweeted: “I urge everyone to stay calm.”

Puerto Rico’s health secretary said generators at all hospitals and health centers were working and had enough fuel, adding that coronavirus vaccines remained properly stored at the correct temperature.

Transportation officials said crews evacuated passengers from the island’s rapid transit system and took them to their destinations via buses.

Education officials said they would soon announce whether public school classes would be canceled on Thursday, frustrating many parents who feared they would not know if their cellphones were dead and they were unable to to recharge them.

Luma, a private company that took over transmission and distribution from Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority last year, said in a statement that power may not be restored until Thursday, “given the magnitude and the magnitude” of the failure.

“The power grid suffered a massive island-wide outage, potentially caused by a circuit breaker failure at the Costa Sur generating station. We are unclear on the exact cause at this time,” the company said.

Costa Sur is one of the four main power stations on the island.

Puerto Rico firefighters worked late into the night to put out the blaze as frustration and anger over another blackout continued to mount.

Carian Montull, 36, said she was in a clothing store in southern Puerto Rico when the lights went out. She said the store’s generators failed to turn on, so she and a dozen other customers were forced to leave their purchases behind and go home.

She said someone nearby yelled, “The lights seriously went out?! It is not possible.

Montull said she didn’t have a generator at home and hoped the power would come back soon so the food in her fridge wouldn’t spoil.

Luma said he would post additional information once he had more details. When it resumed transmission and distribution in June, the then governor said the company had pledged to reduce power outages by 30% and outage duration by 40%. That same month, a large fire at a substation in the capital city of San Juan left hundreds of thousands of people without power.

Another fire at a power plant in September 2016 triggered an island-wide blackout. A year later, Hurricane Maria struck, flattening the island’s fragile power grid and leaving some customers without power for nearly a year. Emergency repairs have since been carried out, but reconstruction efforts have yet to begin.

In addition, the Electric Power Authority of Puerto Rico is trying to emerge from bankruptcy and holds some $9 billion in public debt which it is trying to restructure. The public service has long struggled with mismanagement, corruption and an aging infrastructure that has not been maintained.

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