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Restoration Of Power In Puerto Rico Will Take Months


If you've been following the post-hurricane crisis in Puerto Rico at all, then you know that one of the big issues is hampering recovery, and making life miserable is the lack of electricity more than a week and a half after Hurricane Maria made landfall. And authorities say it will take months to fully restore power to the island. We wondered why, so we called Devon Streit who works on infrastructure, security and energy restoration with the U.S. Department of Energy hoping she can help us. And she's here with us now in our Washington, D.C., studios. Devon Streit, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DEVON STREIT: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: So first of all, what's the current state of the power grid in Puerto Rico? We know that the DOE assessment says that the power outage there is almost 100 percent. Is that still true?

STREIT: Yes, it is. We're starting to make some progress, but the vast majority of the population still is without power.

MARTIN: And why is that?

STREIT: Well, I think it's a combination of factors. The infrastructure on Puerto Rico was aged to begin with. The island suffered two catastrophic hurricanes. Because it is an island, it is more limited in the way that we can get support into the island. We're limited to airports. We're limited to ports. So there are a number of different factors that have really made it more challenging to do restoration in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands than elsewhere.

MARTIN: Well, talk about the U.S. Virgin Islands for a minute if you would. I mean, it's a smaller place. I mean, the majority of the 55,000 customers across the U.S. Virgin Islands remain without power, as we understand it. But there some critical facilities have been restored as we understand it. There's water available for example. So what's the difference? Was the infrastructure worse in Puerto Rico, or is it just because it's a bigger place it was a bigger problem?

STREIT: I think the hit that Puerto Rico took was much worse than the hit that the U.S. Virgin Islands took. So a combination of that and the type of devastation that occurred is what makes the difference.

MARTIN: So how do you get the power back up with a crisis of this magnitude? I mean, what do you do first?

STREIT: I wish I could say something other than slowly, but what you do first is you bring in crews to assess the damage so that you can very clearly understand what is needed so that when we use the logistical support that FEMA and the military have available, we're bringing in the stuff that's needed most soonest, figuring out exactly what we need in terms of trucks and supplies, et cetera, et cetera, and then shipping those in with crews that can support the restoration. And I think the - one of the reasons that we're seeing the Army Corps of Engineers get involved right now is that many of the people who would be restoring power in Puerto Rico are themselves victims. And so the additional oomph if you will that the Army Corps of Engineers can bring to the whole effort is - will really provide the support around which the local utility can help rebuild their infrastructure.

MARTIN: Sometimes crisis leads to opportunity, an opportunity to revisit structures that one might like to revisit anyway. And obviously that's not a silver lining. It's still very traumatic for everybody involved, but are there any conversations around energy security that people in Puerto Rico could be thinking about now since they essentially do have to start over?

STREIT: So let's answer the hopeful from two perspectives. One, I think that as difficult as this is, we are starting to see more and more people, more and more resources becoming available. As with each road that we are able to clear out, more of the supplies and equipment that are there we'll be able to get out to people. We are seeing the fuel distribution, which was an issue. It has become stabilized in the area. That doesn't mean that everybody is going to have fuel at their gas station or that there won't be lines. But I think there are a number of things that you can look to and say it's getting better.

I think to your point, a lot of people are interested in the question of how to rebuild the infrastructure in Puerto Rico to be more resilient. And I know there are lots of conversations going on about ways to do that. And I think that's going to be a really interesting part of this going forward.

MARTIN: That's Devon Streit. She works on infrastructure, security and energy restoration with the U.S. Department of Energy. She was kind enough to stop by our Washington, D.C., studios. Devon Streit, thanks so much for speaking with us.

STREIT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.