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Massive blackout paralyzes Puerto Rico

September 22, 2016

A fire has erupted in a key power plant in Puerto Rico, triggering an "island-wide" blackout, halting railway traffic and jeopardizing the water supply. The authorities urged people to stay indoors.

Puerto Rico Stromausfall
Image: Reuters/A. Baez

The blackout left some 1.5 million people without power on the Caribbean island with a total population of 3.5 million, officials said on Wednesday.

"We are working hard to repair the system and restore service to our customers," said Javier Quintana, the CEO of the Electric Power Authority. "We urge the public to remain calm in this situation."

Many companies and government offices closed early in the capital, San Juan, with thousands of workers heading home through massive traffic jams. The blackout deactivated traffic lights and prompted the authorities to close down train lines and a busy tunnel.

A police officer directing traffic was hit by a car and taken to a hospital. Firefighters urged the people to stay off the streets, citing security concerns.

The lack of power also affected the water-processing plants, with officials urging the citizens of the US territory to mind their consumption.

Puerto Rico Stromausfall
Drivers waiting in a traffic jam in San JuanImage: Reuters/A. Baez

Sky-high bills

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla told reporters that a large fire at an electrical substation started the chain reaction leading to the blackout. The fire took out two transmission lines of 230,000 volts each and destroyed a system that provides 30 percent of the overall power in Puerto Rico.

Padilla said it would take "many hours" to repair the damage.

"This is a very serious event," Padilla said. "The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude."

The authorities are hoping to restore power later on Thursday.

After the breakdown, the authorities also noted 15 fires across the territory, allegedly caused by faulty power generators.

Puerto Rico's power company is burdened with a $9 billion debt, and its management faces corruption allegations. At the same time, Puerto Ricans pay twice as much for electricity as people living in the US.

Company officials had previously said they needed more funds to replace outdated equipment.

dj/kl (AP, dpa, EFE)