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Four Days Without Power In Puerto Rico

Our Experience with Puerto Rico’s Electrical Blackout

It is never good when on the 3rd morning of no power, you are awakened to the sounds of nearby explosions. POP! POP! and POP! And yet, that is exactly what happened to us.

Last Week, during some of the hottest days in Puerto Rico this year, the island was plunged into darkness. The cause? One of the main transformers feeding electricity to much of the island, blew up and started on fire.

But that is just a part of our drama without power in Puerto Rico. For us, everything started a day earlier when we lost electricity for about an hour. I’m not going to bore you and repeat everything the media has already said. Yep, there were long lines at the gas stations. And yep, all the street lights were out and police directed all traffic. Luckily most grocery stores had generators. Although, generators in both residences and businesses, started many fires around the island.

What I want to share with you is our experience with no electricity in Puerto Rico.

Keep in mind that we had only been settled in this new house for about three weeks, so we didn’t really know what to expect from our new neighborhood. When we lost power, the first time, we went out to talk to some of the neighbors. We were told not to worry because this didn’t happen here often and sure enough, our power was restored before anything started to thaw in the freezer. The curious thing, however, was that none of our friends a couple of blocks away lost power.

OK, we thought, this is a fluke.

When the same thing happened again the next morning, and again all of our friends had power, we were starting to wonder…

But, as the day before, our power was restored quickly, until…

We went without power in Puerto Rico for days!

At around 2:30 the same afternoon, the transformers at the Aguirre power plant ignited and majority of people in Puerto Rico lost power. This time for several days. We went out and tried to get our neighbors to call the power company but since this was a wide-spread occurrence, no one wanted to bother. They basically only reported it to the administrator of our complex – fair enough.

The causes of the outage have been under much debate here in our area. The official statements say that the problem was due to outdated equipment and lack of funds for replacements. Some said it was due to lack of maintenance (which the power authority vehemently denies). And some even speculated that it was sabotage. Whatever the reason, we went without power for several days.

Let me tell you, I didn’t realize how much we need electricity in this climate, until we lost it. It was friggin’ HOT. And I mean H-O-T! September is normally a pretty hot month here anyway, but I am not exaggerating when I say that our house was 110+ degrees at night. Without a fan or AC, it was pure hell!

HELL, I tell you!

The first night we braved it and managed. The second night, we thought we were dying and sweated through every sheet on the bed. We were seriously considering going to a hotel with generator for the third night, when a friend of ours came to the rescue by offering his apartment that he usually rents out to vacationers – his power was restored on the 3rd day.

As a matter of fact, majority of Luquillo had power on the 3rd day but we did not. We had been calling the power company frantically trying to figure out why only ½ of our complex had power. Literally, there were lights on behind us and in front of us but we had nothing.

After several phone calls and brush offs by the power company (telling us that there is a bigger problem), on the 4th day, we finally got through to someone. We told them: Look, everyone else in our neighborhood has power except our three blocks.

The answer was: Oh, we thought it was all fixed.

NOPE!

We filed an official report and went to talk to the administrator of our complex. She said that she too had been trying to call the power company but on her side of the neighborhood, the power had been restored, so she was getting nowhere. She needed the owners on our street to call it in but no one was doing it, thinking it was part of the bigger outage.

To make this long story short, we mobilized neighbors and our management company to call the problem in. And, we got our power back on later that day. It took officially reporting it to the power company. We waited on hold for 30 minutes, insisting that something else was wrong besides the big outage, and finally someone fixed it. So, all in all, we were without power for 4 days. We lost a lot of food. And when everything melted overnight, our kitchen had several gallons of water on the floor. What a mess! 

The cause?

Remember those explosions we wake up to a couple of days before? And the early power outages (warnings)?

Our guess is that the local transformer was already having problems. And when they brought the electricity online for our complex, it couldn’t handle the power surge and blew out. But that is just a theory because no one will tell us for sure. We may never know but we do know that persistence pays.

If we hadn’t kept calling and finally gotten taken seriously, we may still be without power today. Although, we are still seeing power surges and minor brownouts. As I write this, there was a 30 second surge and I lost internet – now waiting….

I’d like to say that this was a fun, camping-like experience for us. But in this heat, with food in the freezer, and inability to do any work. It totally sucked!

We are grateful, however, to be back online – mostly. We hear that even now, 6 days later, there are still some people without power in Puerto Rico. See the map at AEEPR website. Our prayers and good wishes go out to them..

Joanna

About Joanna

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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6 comments

  1. Living in PR for more than 20 years, the answer to this is be prepared for that to happen. After Hurricane Georges, I went without power for 29 days! Hugo was not as long but still even though the west side did not take the brunt it was at least a week. For Georges I was prepared. Back up generator, back up water supply (500 gallons) on a pressure pump. My advice is to spend extra and get a good generator. The new Inverter Parallel gen sets are a good choice. They are quiet, and you can hook two of them together to increase the output. They are very quiet at under 60dB. (remember for ever 3dB of “noise” increase it DOUBLEs the actual sound you hear.) Here is a graphic in case you wonder where 60dB falls: http://fileserver.ingersollrand.com/images_its/Upload/quiet%20tool3.jpg. At 60dB you could put it on the back “balcon” and not really disturb any one. The biggest advantage for inverter gen sets is that they produce sine wave outputs and will not damage computers and other sensitive devices that need pure sine waves. How much power do you need from gen set? There are differences between starting needs and running needs of a device. A fridge has a compressor that needs a big kick to get it going. An air conditioner as well. This will guide you to what kind of wattage you need for different devices.

    http://powerequipment.honda.com/generators/generator-wattage-estimation-guide

    And last but not least here is an example of a Portable Inverter Generator with Parallel Capability. Of course Honda makes the best, but there are others like this one from Home Depot.

    http://www.homedepot.com/p/Champion-Power-Equipment-3-400-Watt-Gasoline-Powered-Recoil-Start-Portable-Inverter-Generator-with-Parallel-Capability-100233/206842511?cm_mmc=Shopping%7cTHD%7cG%7c0%7cG-BASE-PLA-D28I-Generators%7c&gclid=CP_IyaKZ1c8CFUxbhgodTNwA6Q&gclsrc=aw.ds >

    OH.. and remember, it is best for the layman never to backfeed the house with a gen set. Plug in what you need to get through the outage. Always run the gen set outside in the open air. If you know where the main cut off switch for your house is, pull it while the outage is going on. This protects not only the lineman from any backfeeding, but when the lights go on and off and surges come down the line, it protects your stuff too! I remember all my neighbors would come by for a cold drink of water during out outage. Thanks to my little gen set!

  2. Thanks for your write-up – it puts the island-wide blackout into perspective.
    My Pop retired to Caguas and suffered through three long nights of the sweltering heat with no A/C or cold fluids during the blackout. At 85 and frail, this is no easy feat for him. Since I was worried sick in NYC awaiting word from my Pop, I contacted the local police force requesting a drive by to make sure he was fine, they agreed but I later found out they never did drive by as they had their hands full. On the 4th day, my Pop was able to call me and seemed to want to forget the entire episode as he was tired and stressed but managed to say that he (like you) resorted to working with the neighbors and was persistent but patient until things sorted themselves out – it really does take a village to survive the unexpected like this Sept blackout. He also recently invested in battery-operated devices like lanterns and desk fans as well as a crank radio. I remembering that my Pop would say, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ So true, be well.

    • Thanks for commenting. I know what you mean, we have friends that struggled in the same way, living in the mountains of Luquillo. To be fair though, when they called the power co. (and where finally able to get through), it seemed that someone came out and took care of their problems faster. Heat stroke is a real problem for the elderly. Glad your dad is well.

      Joanna-

  3. Joanna, I recommend you buy a portable electricity generator, to power your fridge and abanicos ( Fans ), about 3500 watts will do.