SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An explosion and fire at an electric
substation threw much of northern Puerto Rico into darkness late
Sunday in a setback for the U.S. territory's efforts to fully
restore power more than five months after Hurricane Maria
started the longest blackout in U.S. history.
The island's Electric Power Authority said several
municipalities were without power, including parts of the
capital, San Juan, but they were optimistic it could be restored
within a day as they worked to repair a substation that controls
The blast illustrated the challenges of restoring a power grid
that was already crumbling before it was devastated by the
Category 4 hurricane.
In many cases, power workers are repairing equipment that should
have long been replaced but remained online due to the power
authority's yearslong financial crisis. PREPA is worth roughly
$4 billion, carries $9 billion in debt and has long been
criticized for political patronage and inefficiency. It also
struggled with frequent blackouts, including an island-wide
outage in September 2016.
It was not immediately known what caused Sunday's fire, which
was quickly extinguished. Officials said the explosion knocked
two other substations offline and caused a total loss of 400
megawatts worth of generation.
"We are trying to restore that as quickly as possible," the
Heavy black smoke billowed from the substation as neighbors in
the area described on social media seeing the sky turn orange
following a loud explosion. San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz tweeted
that no injuries had been reported and that power had been
restored in some areas of the city.
The blackout comes as more than 400,000 power customers remain
in the dark more than five months after Hurricane Maria. The
storm destroyed two-thirds of the island's power distribution
system and caused up to an estimated $94 billion in damage.
Puerto Rico's governor announced last month that he plans to
privatize the state-owned power company, which relies on
infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry
average. It would be the largest restructuring of a public
entity in U.S. history.
One week after his announcement, a federal control board
overseeing the island's finances asked that a judge authorize a
loan of up to $1.3 billion so the power company can keep
operating. The board said the company could see an estimated
$1.2 billion loss in revenue in the first six months after