In the aftermath of both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the entire island of Puerto Rico and all its 3.5 million citizens could live without power for months.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is unable to bring power back to the island on its own. The government agency is bankrupt and reviled in Puerto Rico, due to a combination of mismanagement, neglect and an infrastructure that dates back to the 1970s. And although the U.S. Energy Department will work alongside PREPA, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said that Puerto Ricans could remain without power for four to six months.
Tourism — which adds an estimated $4 billion to Puerto Rico’s economy — is on hold until the island resolves its electrical issues.
“The safety and security of everyone on the island, including all of our visitors, is our biggest priority in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” José Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, said in a statement. “We’re working closely with other state and federal government agencies and collaborating with our industry partners to identify immediate needs across the island.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in Puerto Rico, delivering emergency supplies, including food, water and blankets, to citizens. The White House issued major disaster declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Federal funding will help cover temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans for repairing uninsured property.
PREPA was already working to re-establish power for one million customers after Hurricane Irma when Hurricane Maria devastated the entire power system. The only places with electricity are running via generator. However these establishments — including hospitals around the island — could soon run out of fuel.
“We came together not long ago to help our Caribbean neighbors post-Irma, and it is this generosity, the hospitality of our people, and the beauty of our island that are at the essence of the Puerto Rican spirit and what will get us through these challenging times,” Izquierdo said.