After quake, Puerto Rico governor says power should be back by Monday

(Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s governor said power should be fully restored across the island by Monday after the worst earthquake in over a century knocked out its biggest generating plant and left nearly all 3 million residents without electricity.

Men set up a power generator at their house after the earthquake in Yauco, Puerto Rico, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Two days after suffering its most powerful earthquake in over a century, only half of the Caribbean island had power, according to Puerto Rico’s top energy executive José Ortiz on Thursday.

Ortiz told a press conference that the U.S territory’s largest power plant, Costa Sur, could remain off line for a year or more due to earthquake damage, evoking memories of lengthy power outages following back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

But power should be completely restored by Monday as other generating plants came back online, Ortiz and Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez said at the press conference.

“Our projection, as you have heard, is that during the weekend, or Monday, we will have 100% of customers with energy services,” said Vázquez, who took office in August after predecessor Ricardo Rosselló resigned during mass protests against his administration.

Tuesday’s 6.4 magnitude quake and 5.6 aftershock killed at least one person and destroyed or damaged about 300 homes in the south of the island.

The earthquake added to Puerto Rico’s woes as it continues to recover from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which killed nearly 3,000 people in 2017. It is also restructuring about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations in a bankruptcy process.

The quake shut down Puerto Rico’s power system as generating plants automatically went off line and Costa Sur, which supplied up to a third of electricity, suffered severe damage.

Puerto Rico needs remaining plants to operate at or near capacity to meet peak demand of around 2,300 megawatts, said Ortiz, executive director of public power utility PREPA.

Vázquez initially said power would be fully restored within 24-48 hours. But additional damage to plants and infrastructure was discovered, slowing the process, Ortiz said.

As of 5:45 p.m. (4:45 p.m. ET) the island was generating 1260 megawatts, according to electricity agency AEE.

Ortiz did not rule out building a new power plant to replace the ageing Costa Sur facility. He also raised the prospect of bringing in temporary generators with aid from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and said PREPA was looking for a company to supply them.

Reporting Daniel Trotta and Andrew Hay; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Richard Chang

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