A blackout hit Puerto Rico's capital and surrounding areas Thursday after two of the U.S. territory's main power plants shut down, a failure that came amid warnings from officials that the power company is struggling to remain operational.
The capital of San Juan was left without power along with the neighboring municipalities of Caguas, Bayamon and Carolina, company spokeswoman Yohari Molina told The Associated Press. She said crews were working to repair the problem but that it wasn't clear how many customers were affected by the outage. More than 970,000 people live in the areas hit by the blackout.
By Thursday afternoon, officials announced that power had been restored to the island's main international airport and several hospitals.
Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority tweeted that the Palo Seco and San Juan plants shut down to protect the electrical system, but said it was unclear what caused the shutdown. Power company director Justo Gonzalez said crews flying over a main power line found the failure just miles from a power plant in southern Puerto Rico and were working to repair it. Another power line that serves as backup has not been repaired since Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 20. Gonzalez said one of the power plants that shut down earlier in the day was slowly coming back online.
While officials said the outage was limited to four municipalities, people on social media were reporting outages in other areas as well. The blackout snarled traffic and knocked out water service to dozens of neighborhoods, including the historic part of Puerto Rico's capital known as Old San Juan.
Thursday's power outage comes nearly three weeks after a fire erupted at one of the company's substations, knocking two power plants offline, leaving some people without power for two days. The investigation into that incident is still ongoing.
Juan Manuel Fernandez, a 44-year-old customer service representative who lives in Caguas, was affected by Thursday's outage as well as the Feb. 11 outage, which occurred just days after crews restored power in his neighborhood more than five months after Hurricane Maria.
"You just resign yourself," he said of the newest outage. "It's become normal."
Overall, more than 15 percent of power customers remain in the dark nearly six months after Hurricane Maria, which destroyed two-thirds of the island's power distribution system. Officials have said they expect power to be fully restored by May.
Meanwhile, a federal control board overseeing the island's finances recently obtained a $300 million loan for the power company, warning that would only serve to keep it operational through late March. Board members said they expect to request more loans in upcoming weeks.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced in January that he plans to privatize the power company in 18 months. The company is $9 billion in debt and operating with infrastructure that is nearly three times older than the industry average.
"This is another opportunity to reflect (on privatization)," he said shortly after the blackout. "We cannot rebuild the same system."