Ambulances at an electric substation on Sunday after an explosion and fire caused a blackout in parts of San Juan, P.R.

Ricardo Arduengo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SAN JUAN, P.R. — An explosion and fire at an electric substation threw much of northern Puerto Rico into darkness late Sunday in a setback for the territory’s efforts to fully restore power more than five months after Hurricane Maria started one of the longest blackouts in United States history.

The island’s Electric Power Authority said several municipalities were without power, including parts of the capital, San Juan, but officials were optimistic it could be restored within a day as they worked to repair a substation that controls voltage.

The blast illustrated the challenges of restoring a power grid that was already crumbling before it was devastated by Maria, a Category 4 hurricane.

In many cases, power workers are repairing equipment that should have long been replaced but remained online because of the power authority’s yearslong financial crisis. The power authority is worth roughly $4 billion, carries $9 billion in debt and has long been criticized for political patronage and inefficiency. It also struggled with frequent blackouts, including an island-wide outage in September 2016.

It was not immediately known what caused Sunday’s fire, which was quickly extinguished. Officials said the explosion knocked two other substations offline and caused a total loss of 400 megawatts worth of generation.

Heavy black smoke billowed from the substation as neighbors in the area described on social media seeing the sky turn orange following a loud explosion. San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz posted on Twitter that no injuries had been reported and that power had been restored in some areas of the city.

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