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Get a Handle on board Assembly to austerity plans for Puerto Rico

20 April 2018

An island-wide blackout has hit Puerto Rico, which is struggling with an increasingly unstable power grid almost seven months after Hurricane Maria hit the USA territory. According to media reports the accident, which involved an excavator used by a subcontracted company hired to restore power on the island in the wake of massive damage caused by Hurricane Maria, occurred in the southeast of the country. Within hours, long lines were reported at local gas stations and gridlock at some of the larger intersections in the San Juan area. Some 40,000 power customers still remain without normal electrical service as a result of the hurricane.

Today we spoke with Major Catalina Carrasco, who says they are specifically working with Prepa, the Puerto Rican electric power authority, to get things back up and running.

PREPA's interim director, Justo González, said Wednesday that Cobra Energy, a US private contractor, hit the transmission line with a crane, causing multiple power plants to shut down in quick succession.

"No one should believe these reforms are being implemented without clear and direct benefit to the people of Puerto Rico", said Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the board that was set up by Congress.

The new blackout occurred as Puerto Rico legislators debate a bill that would privatize the island's power company, which is $14 billion in debt and relies on infrastructure almost three times older than the industry average.

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Furthermore, contact with poor air pollution can lead to lung cancer, chronic lung disease, strokes and heart attacks. Haque said dust pollution has emerged as a major problem in recent times and it turns worst in winter.

The priority is to restore service to critical structures such as hospitals, the airport, water pumps and banks, according to the agency's Twitter account.

Tens of thousands of people have not had electricity since the catastrophic Hurricane Maria hit the island last September. It was the second in a week, demonstrating the still fragile nature of the grid. Just a month before Hurricane Maria struck past year, the board sued Rossello for refusing to implement proposed furloughs and pension cuts.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in a statement Wednesday that he had suggested the power authority cancel the contract with the subcontractor responsible for the outage. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the federal power restoration efforts, said they hope to have the entire island fully energized by May. The plan also anticipates a more than $6 billion surplus over five years as the island struggles to restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt load amid an 11-year recession.

But the mayor said backup systems and mobile tower lights will allow Wednesday night's baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins to go on as planned at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Get a Handle on board Assembly to austerity plans for Puerto Rico