SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Half of Puerto Rico is without power more than five days after Hurricane Fiona hit – including an entire city where not a single working team has arrived.

Many in the US are furious and distrustful, and voices are calling for the removal of the island’s private electricity transmission and distribution company.

A fuel disruption worsens the situation, forcing grocery stores, gas stations, and other businesses to close, while apartment buildings remain in the dark as there is no diesel fuel for the generators.

Many question why it takes so long to restore power, since Fiona was a Category 1 storm that did not hit the entire island and whose rain – not wind – did the most damage.

“This is not normal,” said Marcel Castro-Sitiriche, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. “They did not provide a convincing explanation of what the problem was.”

He noted that the Puerto Rico and Luma Electricity Authority, a private company that took over the island’s power transmission and distribution last year, also failed to publish basic information such as details of the damage to the electricity grid.

“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet,” Castro said, adding that he was concerned and surprised that Luma had not brought in additional crews to increase the number of people already on the island.

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Luma said Fiona’s floods have left several substations underwater and inaccessible, and says it doesn’t need any more staff.

“We have all the resources we think we need,” said Luma engineer Daniel Hernández.

The lack of power has prompted at least two mayors to launch their own repair teams, and several other city leaders are clamoring why the Luma crews failed to reconnect homes and critical infrastructure.

“They didn’t even come here,” said Yasmín Allende, administrator of the commune of Hormigueros, a city in western Puerto Rico with more than 15,600 people, many of them elderly.

City officials have provided a list of damaged transformers and power lines, as well as the exact location of dozens of damaged electric poles, she said. They even cleaned the holes around the damaged areas to ensure that electricity was restored as quickly as possible.

“Everything is ready for them to come and do their job,” Allende said. “All they have to do is show up.”

Elizabeth González, who lives in Hormigueros, said she was forced to throw away two sacks of meat on Friday and has problems buying more gas for the generator, even though her husband, who has c*ncer, is addicted to it.

González said she was fed up with Puerto Rico’s power grid.

“It’s useless, that simple,” she said. “If there is a hurricane, if there is rain or a slight gust of wind, the power is quickly exhausted.”

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The island’s power grid was already collapsing due to austerity measures, aging infrastructure and a lack of maintenance when the mighty Hurricane Maria destroyed the system in 2017. Rebuilding the network had barely begun when Hurricane Fiona struck last Sunday.

In the first days after Fiona, Luma officials and Governor Pedro Pierluisi promised that the vast majority of customers would soon get their electricity back. However, at the end of Friday, more than 40% of 1.47 million customers were still unaware.

In addition, 27% of the 1.3 million water and sanitation consumers were partially without water because the pumps are powered by electricity and not all have back-up generators.

Neither Luma nor Puerto Rico’s utility company said when electricity would be restored in the worst-hit areas. They only said that their priority was hospitals and other critical infrastructure.

The situation outraged many Puerto Ricans, including representatives of local authorities.

“I will not accept excuses,” said Alexander Burgos, mayor of the central mountain town of Ciales. “Our power lines are operational, there are no electric pylons on the ground and we are ready to plug in.”

Edward O’Neill, mayor of the northern city of Guaynabo, tweeted that Luma’s “bad performance” was “unacceptable.”

O’Neill, who has worked for both Puerto Rico’s energy company and Luma, said his municipality has gathered all the necessary information to help crews restore energy, but has seen no results.

In the northern city of Bayamon, Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera grew tired of waiting and hired independent repair crews to start work on Friday afternoon, although they were not servicing live wires. Aguadilla’s mayor Julio Roldán announced that he was doing the same in his northwest coastal town, saying: “We think other people will survive. We have it.”

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The mayor of the central mountain town of Utuado said no one in his municipality of 28,000 people had power and accused Luma of unnecessary suffering for the inhabitants. The mayor of the western city of Moca echoed this feeling, saying, “Luma didn’t want to take responsibility.”

Cathy Kunkel, an energy and finance analyst from Puerto Rico, said she was surprised that power had not yet returned to areas beyond Fion’s control, including the capital San Juan.

She also asked why Luma had not hired hundreds of experienced installers who worked with the Puerto Rico Electricity Authority before a private company took over transmission and distribution in June 2021.

“We have this absurdly frustrating situation,” she said. “The old system is sticking together in a substandard way. You really want people who know how to work on this particular system. “

A lack of power has been linked to several d*aths. Authorities say a 70-year-old man burned to d*ath when he tried to fill his working generator with gasoline, and a 78-year-old man died from inhaling toxic gases from his generator. Police said on Friday that a 72-year-old man and a 93-year-old woman were killed after their house burned down because they relied on candles as lights.

Castro-Sitiriche, a professor of electrical engineering, said the Puerto Rican government, the Luma and the Electric Power Authority were to blame.

“It’s a shared disaster,” he said, adding that Fiona was a wake-up call and that more people need to be connected to solar power. “It’s a shame the government hasn’t done it to save lives.”

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