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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Puerto Rico Will Not Be Fully Reconnected To Electricity Until Late May

WHAT’S THE HURRY? — A police officer walks next to damaged electrical installations in Guayama, Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

WASHINGTON — Puerto Rico’s electrical grid is unlikely to be fully restored until the end of May, the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday — months longer than the timeline offered by the island’s governor.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief engineer for the Corps, said in an interview Wednesday that he expects the Puerto Rico’s electric grid to reach 75 per cent of customers by the end of January, 95 per cent by the end of February, and 100 per cent by the end of May, more than eight months after Hurricane Maria hit.

That departs from statements by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who said in October that he hoped power would be restored to 95 percent of the grid by Dec. 15.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) made a similar pledge last month, saying it would reach 95 percent of customers by the end of December.

The slow pace of restoring electricity following Hurricane Maria has become shorthand for the United States government’s uneven response.

Just 61 percent of electricity had been restored as of Wednesday, according to data on a website run by the island’s government.

The Army Corps is a key part of a task force of U.S. government and outside groups working with Puerto Rico’s government to restore power on the island.

Semonite said he had told Rossello on Oct. 27 that the Dec. 15 timeline was unrealistic. “Governor, there’s no way you’re going to get 95 per cent” by that point, Semonite recounted telling Rossello. “And he was very, very upset.”

“The bottom line is, he ought to be upset, because all of his people ought to have electricity,” Semonite said. “We’re just as compassionate as the governor is at getting his guys electricity. That’s why I have 700 guys that are going to be there over Christmas.”

To illustrate the challenge of getting the grid fully restored, Semonite described flying over a cluster of four homes on the top of a mountain, fed by a single wire that goes up the side of a cliff.

“Those four houses, what I call the last mile, they’re going to take a long time. So I said probably the end of May to get to 100 per cent. I’d love to go faster.”

Justo Gonzalez, PREPA’s interim executive director, said the agency has had to refine its schedule because workers have found such severe damage that has required wholesale rebuilding of many parts of the grid.

“We understand just how difficult it has been for our citizens to be without power for so long and commit to continuing to do all we can to ensure PREPA has the necessary resources to complete this unprecedented power restoration effort,” González said.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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