In the southeastern part of the country, the Electric Power Authority suffered great damage. (horizontal-x3)
In the southeastern part of the country, the Electric Power Authority suffered great damage. (GFR Media)

19 weeks after Hurricane Mary hit the island and with the beginning of the second month of 2018, 30 percent of the customers of the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) still do not have electricity, according to data provided yesterday by the United States Corps of Engineers.

Colonel John Lloyd, commander of the special team of the Corps of Engineers to restore the power grid, indicated that, until yesterday morning, 1,033,000 customers of PREPA had been reconnected and that repairs are approaching the most complicated areas.

Lloyd stated that within the 30 percent of customers who remain without power, many are probably still not ready to be reconnected due to the damage suffered in their homes.

"30 percent are still missing ... Part of that number (those without powe) includes the estimate of houses destroyed by the hurricanes. We are estimating 70,000, but it is a number that we try to adjust every day. They will not receive energy yet, "said Lloyd, during a live broadcast through social networks.

Both the Housing Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have estimated that Hurricane Maria destroyed about 70,000 homes completely.

According to the web site, in which the government offers official data, until yesterday there were 69.67 percent of the users with electricity, while the generation was about 80.7 percent.

Lloyd said that work has been speeding up in the past few weeks, because the flow of materials improved and crews of US electricity companies arrived S, including workers who will go to the western area.

As well, Carlos Alvarado, head of PREPA technical operations, stressed that now the entire west area is practically covered.

"All the feeders are assigned to PREPA crews and those that have come for support. In towns like Mayagüez, Maricao, Aguada, Rincón ... no 'feeder' is unattended".

According to Lloyd, 200 additional line workers will arrive soon who, along with the crews released from other areas of the island, will be concentrated in the Caguas region and the eastern área of Puerto Rico to work with transmission lines that are in difficult access areas, that he described as "the main challenge".

Even so, he kept the estimate that by the end of March, most of the customers - between 90 and 95 percent - would have their service restored.

The most difficult part is missing

"The most difficult work is coming in the next months. Many of the customers that we have managed to connect (so far) are what I would call 'the fruit that was hanging on the tree', "said Lloyd.

"Much of the work we have left is in these difficult areas in terms of transmission lines and in the most impacted areas, especially in the Caguas region," the colonel added.

He pointed out that the problem with those lines has also contributed to the fact that PREPA's service has not reached Vieques and Culebra.

"These transmissionlines have to be repaired to bring electricity to the submarine cable and then to Vieques," he added. "We need to fix those transmission lines first (on the big island), which would be repaired by mid-March."

Alvarado added that the damage includes more than 30 fallen posts in Vieques and that the substation where the submarine line is connected in Naguabo was also damaged, so several alternatives are being evaluated, such as installing a new cable from the former naval station Roosevelt Roads, in Ceiba.

"The distance is shorter from there", Alvarado said. "Sea and the sand got into the current substation and caused a lot of damage".

Currently, both Vieques and Culebra are receiving electricity from generators.

Regarding the rest of the eastern area, where Hurricane Maria made landfall, Lloyd highlighted the serious impact on the 5800 transmission line that carries energy to most of the Humacao region, from Guayama.

"It has 48 towers on the ground. The entire line is on the ground. It has to be completly rebuilt and that will take time”, the colonel stated and also said that each tower can take up to three days to be lifted.

"This line is one of the reasons why we had to put generators in Yabucoa", he added.

The situation looks better in the northeast area, according to Alvarado. He explained that they completed the connection of the 3800 line to Fajardo.

"We are close to be connected to Naguabo turbines, which feed from Fajardo to Ceiba. Then, it will stop being “a little island”, to be connected to the rest of the network", said Alvarado, who anticipated that this must happen"early next week".

Little advance for mayors

On the other hand, the mayor of Bayamón, Ramón Luis Rivera, indicated that he has seen more crews movement, however he still has more than half of the municipality without energy service.

"In a small town, if you improve one percent, it means a lot of people. But, to such a big city as Bayamón, any advance means a small percentage, "said Rivera.

"I know it has improved. There is more movement. Since the arrival of Florida Power company, it has speeded up, because the others were slower, "he said.

In contrast, the mayor of Cayey, Rolando Ortiz, said the situation in his municipality has not changed. He noted that 18 of the 22 neighborhoods still have no power.

"I do not even ask for authorization to work on the lines," Ortiz said, referring to the controversy over the allege agreement so that municipalities can advance works on the infrastructure of the power grid.

"The only thing I ask the governor is the courtesy of a visit. I know that, when he sees this reality, he will change his mind, "he said. 

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