Only half of Puerto Rico has power, months after hurricane

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico authorities said Friday that nearly half of power customers in the U.S. territory still lack electricity more than three months after Hurricane Maria, sparking outrage among islanders who accuse the government of mismanaging its response to the Category 4 storm.

Officials said 55 percent of the nearly 1.5 million customers have power, marking the first time the government has provided that statistic since Maria hit Sept. 20 with winds of up to 154 mph. Officials had previously reported only power generation, which stands at nearly 70 percent of pre-storm levels.

“It’s just extraordinary that it is still so far away from being 100 percent recovered,” said Susan Tierney, a senior adviser for Denver-based consulting company Analysis Group who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on efforts to restore power in Puerto Rico.

One of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities remains entirely without power, and it’s unclear when some electricity will be restored to the central mountain town of Ciales. Crews this week restored power for the first time to parts of the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa, which received the first hit from Maria.

Among those still in the dark is Christian Pagan, 58, who lives near the capital of San Juan and said it was the government’s fault that a large number of people still don’t have power.

“Everybody saw that the devastation was great, but I don’t understand why they’re trying to sell people something that’s not real,” he said of the explanations the government has provided as to why power has not been fully restored.

He especially criticized the power company’s former director, Ricardo Ramos, who resigned in late October after signing a $300 million contract for a Montana-based company that had only two full-time employees when the storm hit. Ramos also had said he did not activate mutual-aid agreements with power companies in the U.S. mainland in part because there was no way to communicate with them.

“That’s the kind of help you ask for three days before the hurricane,” Pagan said.

It is not yet known what percentage of businesses and homes now have electricity. Power company spokesman Geraldo Quinones told The Associated Press that officials are still working to obtain that data, stressing that the optical fiber that helps provide the number of customers with power and other data was destroyed by the hurricane.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello had pledged 95 percent power generation by Dec. 15, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said the entire island will have power by May.

Government officials said nearly 14,000 poles already have been shipped to Puerto Rico, and another 7,000 will arrive in upcoming days. In addition, about 3,500 workers are trying to restore power across the island, with many working through the holidays.