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  • Prime Power transmission and distribution specialists repair power lines in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

    Prime Power transmission and distribution specialists repair power lines in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. | Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Published 21 March 2019 (17 hours 33 minutes ago)

PREPA expects the rebuilding process to take months as crews have to inspect areas that were restored, but not up to code, due to time and resource constraints.

On Wednesday, The Puerto Rico Electic Power Authority (PREPA) was finally preparing to shut down generators that have been powering the island-municipality of Culebra since December 2017.

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Culebra, an island off Puerto Rico's coast, lost connection to the main power grid when hurricanes Irma and Maria struck causing the region to lose its only source of power. Two large generators provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been providing energy to the island's 1,800 residents since then.

“One year and six months relying solely on a generator that if the gasoline runs out, we don’t have power. It has taken so long," says Culebra resident Grace Monel.

Culebra will be receiving power through an underwater cable coming from neighboring island-municipality Vieques. The smaller islands are popular tourist areas and have experienced many power outages since the hurricanes. Monel says the power outages have caused damage to many of the residents' home appliances.

The locals remain wary of being reconnected to the main power grid since two major power outages on the main island have been reported this week. Both times, thousands of residents were left without power due to incidents involving small animals - a cat, and an iguana. Tuesday's incident, involving the iguana, left some 100,000 without power.

PREPA's transmission and distribution director, Jose Sepulveda, has pointed out the difficulty of the job following the 2017 hurricanes, saying the current system still requires multiple repairs and updates, because "some codes were ignored because of codes and lack of equipment... Now that the emergency is over, we will start rebuilding the system.”

Sepulveda expects the rebuilding process to take months as crews have to inspect areas that were restored, but not up to code. Due to time and resource limitations, substandard cables were used to restore power in Puerto Rico in order to be operational by August 2018, many months after the storm.

In preparation to avoid future outages, three backup generators are being installed on Culebra, replacing the three that have been operational for over a year. PREPA's chief executive officer, Jose Ortiz Vazquez, adds that "a new electric switch was installed in the substation of Vieques that will serve as protection for the section towards Culebra."

Despite all preparations, Sepulveda admitted that, at the moment, the current grid would not be able to handle another major storm.

As the Atlantic hurricane season approaches, Sepulveda warns that another storm would cause, "something similar to what happened in 2017."

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