The San Juan Daily Star
Adjuntas, Salinas in the dark without answers; Caguas hires outside brigades
By John McPhaul
One week after Hurricane Fiona, Adjuntas and Salinas remain 100 percent dark, which is causing a serious crisis in both municipalities, while officials from LUMA Energy, the private consortium that operates Puerto Rico’s electricity transmission and distribution system, have not honored the promises made to Adjuntas Mayor José Hiram Soto Rivera and his counterpart in Salinas, Karilyn Bonilla Colón, the mayors said Monday.
“LUMA had told us that the urban center, the town substation, as well as the Yahuecas substation were ready to be energized, but a week after the hurricane passed, there is no electricity service anywhere in our municipality,” Soto Rivera said. “They have given us false information.”
The Salinas mayor meanwhile called it an abuse that LUMA has taken so long to re-energize her town, where not even the hospital has electricity. Bonilla Colón said LUMA personnel in charge of electricity have told her that they are waiting to have the capacity to energize her municipality. However, she said, that contradicts what they had told her before, that they would give priority to her municipality because it was one of the most affected.
Soto Rivera concurred with Bonilla Colón, in that one of his main requests was the energization of the urban area of Adjuntas, where the Diagnostic and Treatment Center is located, which has had problems operating with the emergency electricity generator and also has faced diesel supply problems.
Bonilla Colón said Salinas “needs to have electricity so that water flows and families can clean their houses.”
“This can even cause a health [public] problem since in two communities [Playa and Margarita] the overflow of used water mixed with the mud is already unsustainable and it has not been possible to clean it.”
According to information received by the municipal administration of Adjuntas, the transmission lines were never patrolled by certified personnel in order to provide electricity to the town.
“The last excuse they gave is that two or three lines are still on the ground. One that comes from Ponce, another from Yauco,” Soto Rivera said. “Each time a different excuse demonstrating total incompetence.”
Bonilla Colón added that, unlike other towns, the infrastructure of cables and poles in Salinas suffered little or no damage.
“They have told us that everything is ready. We do not understand why then they continue without energizing,” she said. “It seems to me that they have not understood the sense of urgency with which these situations must be addressed and what the real priorities are.”
“May LUMA keep its word to start energizing the municipality of Adjuntas and stop lying to the people,” Soto Rivera said.
In Caguas, meanwhile, Mayor William Miranda Torres has decided to hire outside brigades to help restore electricity.
“It is unacceptable that one week after Hurricane Fiona, LUMA Energy has not been able to restore power to much of the country,” he said. “This terribly affects citizens who also have lost water service due to lack of energy. It is a devastating effect that becomes more critical as the days go by. That is why I made the determination to hire brigades that can help in tasks to restore electrical service.”
Miranda Torres said brigades have already been hired to carry out tasks related to erecting and placing poles, erecting non-energized cables, and trimming trees to clear lines, among others. However, the energizing tasks continue to be in the hands of LUMA Energy.
“What we would be doing is advancing the work of LUMA Energy with the objective that they can advance in the process of energizing,” the mayor said. “We hope that this action has the expected result since we need the service to be restored as soon as possible. The days continue to pass and we have no certainty or clear information about what is happening. We know that there are people suffering and a country in the dark and it is unacceptable. We are doing everything we can to advance the work and respond to the needs of citizens.”
Given what he said was the poor planning and lack of preparation of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) in its response after the passage of Hurricane Fiona, Miranda Torres has rented generators for the PRASA pumping stations that serve the sectors of Hormigas, El Cinco I and II, Los Prados, Guavate I and II and Cañaboncito. Likewise, the municipality has provided generators for the rural aqueducts that serve the Parcelas Nuevas, Villa Vigía, El Paraíso and La Sierra sectors. The municipality, through the Municipal Emergency Management Office (OMME), also established potable water stations in the urban center.
Villalba mayor calls on skilled townspeople to restore electricity
Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz on Monday also joined the list of municipal leaders who are tired of waiting for the brigades of LUMA Energy to get to their municipality and called on retired PREPA employees living in the town to work and restore power.
“Since they took away the only brigade that was doing the work of raising the energy infrastructure in Mi Pueblo, I have decided to activate VILLALBA POWER,” Hernández Ortiz, who is also the president of the Puerto Rico Mayors Association, wrote on his Facebook page. “Therefore, I CALL on all electrical experts and retirees of PREPA to come to the Fine Arts Center at 10:00 a.m. to outline the work plan. I grant PREPA and LUMA 24 hours to start giving us generation through hydroelectric or any other available generator. THE ABUSE IS OVER!”
LUMA Energy, the private consortium in charge of operating the electricity transmission and distribution system in Puerto Rico, said in a press conference Sunday afternoon that it would take until Friday to restore power to 91% of the island. At that time, 869,279 customers had service, representing 59% of LUMA’s clients.
Ponce was the least energized region, with 16% of customers with service, followed by Mayagüez (28%). More than half of the customers in the Arecibo and Caguas regions (53% and 58%, respectively) had electricity, followed by San Juan (87%) and Bayamón (88%), according to the recently created Puerto Rico Emergency Portal System (www.preps.pr.gov.)
The animosity between the island’s mayors and LUMA has gained momentum nine days after the passage of Hurricane Fiona. The tropical storm hit the island and became a hurricane as it passed through the southwestern town of Cabo Rojo. The entire island was left without power, and citizens have had to endure high temperatures without means of cooling themselves, long lines to get fuel, diesel and ice, and slow recovery efforts.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell arrived on the island last week and has been accompanying Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia as they’ve been touring the most impacted zones. Last Thursday, Criswell said at a press conference that “this storm is personal to FEMA.”
Patience wears thin in Hatillo, Camuy, Quebradillas
Later on Monday, New Progressive Party Rep. Joel Franqui Atiles demanded that both PREPA and LUMA send generation to the district of Hatillo, Camuy and Quebradillas.
The main feeder lines are open and among the three municipalities we are only 25% restored due to lack of generation,” Franqui Atiles said.
The legislator, who in recent days charged that 90% of the electrical infrastructure was ready to receive service, called for authorities to take affirmative action with power generation.
“Our people are in need, our elderly, everyone is suffering because of their ineptitude,” he said. “There is no excuse for this inefficiency.”
Franqui Atiles likewise demanded the urgent energization of the water pumping station that supplies the Pajuil and Buena Vista de Hatillo communities, as well as the treatment plant that supplies water to the southern sectors of Camuy and Hatillo, as they are critical areas.
“The Aqueduct and Sewer Authority has a broken generator, its parts are not available in Puerto Rico and we are still waiting,” he said. “Our families can’t take it anymore.”
Alejandra M. Jover Tovar contributed to this report.