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Puerto Rico probes fire that left 900,000 customers without power

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Authorities said on Friday they were investigating what sparked a fire at a key substation that left 900,000 customers in darkness in Puerto Rico, with tens of thousands still without power .

Wayne Stensby, CEO of Luma Energy, which took over transmission and distribution this month for Puerto Rico’s 1.5 million electricity customers, said he expects electricity to be fully recovered by Friday night. He said officials do not know what blew up a transformer Thursday night in a secure area monitored by cameras.

“We have not located the source of the failure,” he said. “It is clear that the electrical system here in Puerto Rico is very fragile.”

Smoke rises after a large fire at a main substation that left hundreds of thousands of customers in the dark in San Juan, Puerto Rico on June 10, 2021.@ MadeleenFlores via AP

Some 36,000 customers were still without electricity on Friday, including Gertrudis Calderón, who lives in a popular area of ​​the capital San Juan. While the area has a solar-powered community center that was built after Hurricane Maria razed Puerto Rico’s power grid in 2017, she worries about the elderly in her neighborhood who are bedridden and dependent on l oxygen or refrigerated insulin.

“They have to pay attention to the infrastructure of less privileged communities because we are sometimes the most affected,” she said. “You have to think about the elderly.

Luma was already grappling with thousands of outages that affected more than a million customers this month before the fire broke out. Some mayors have declared a state of emergency, saying the company told them it did not have enough brigades to restore power quickly.

Many Puerto Ricans also criticized Luma, who expected the problems could be fixed immediately despite a decades-old unstable infrastructure. Lots of people say they’ve had trouble reporting outages.

Hours before the fire, Luma said it was the target of a cyberattack in which its website received 2 million hits per second, preventing customers from accessing it.

Some clients like Iván Quiles, who lives in the western mountain town of San Sebastián, said he had given up on contacting Luma and called the mayor directly instead. His sister relies on oxygen to stay alive, and he worries with every failure.

“It’s very hard,” he said. “When the lights go out, my biggest concern is the health of my sister.”

Stensby, CEO of Luma, said he didn’t expect an event like Thursday to happen often: “I hope yesterday was not normal. It cannot be normal.

Luma, a consortium of Atco of Calgary, Alta., And Quanta Services Inc. of Houston, will operate the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s transmission and distribution system under a 15-year contract .

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