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García Padilla during a press conference held at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
García Padilla during a press conference held at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. (Xavier García)

Puerto Rico's governor, Alejandro García Padilla, said that a widespread blackout affecting the U.S. territory is “a major event” and that it may take up to 24 hours to restore the island’s power grid.

“This is a major event that will take many hours to reset,” García Padilla said during a press conference held at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) headquarters in Santurce on Wednesday afternoon.

García Padilla called on citizens to remain calm while “temporarily” ruling out that a power outage affecting about 1.5 million customers on the Island was provoked as an act of sabotage.

He said that at some point tonight, he will announce if the government services and schools will open on Thursday.

“Prudence. This is a matter that will last for hours,” warned  the governor, who was joined by PREPA’s executive director, Javier Quintana and Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (PRASA) executive director, Alberto Lázaro.

On Wednesday early afternoon, two 230,000-volt transmission lines went down after a fire broke out at Central Aguirre, one of PREPA’s key units. Even though several teams of the Puerto Rico Fire Corps were able to extinguish the fire in a short period of time, efforts to restore the electricity service were unsuccessful, according to El Nuevo Dia sources.

PREPA is Puerto Rico’s sole electric utility. Wednesday’s power outage, the largest but not the only one in the past 12 months, occurs amid a debt-restructuring process of the public corporation that defaulted on its creditors about two years ago. 

Since many of the island’s water plants run on electricity, the blackout also resulted in water outages in certain municipalities.

Over the past decade, lower energy sales and a 16%-drop on its customers base -due to migration and the shrinkage of the island’s industrial niche- has left PREPA with a severe liquidity crunch and without adequate capital to update and maintain its power grid, even though PREPA electricity rates are among the highest within the US.