Puerto Rico Officials Say Post-Hurricane Maria Power Restoration Is Complete, But Residents Claim That’s Untrue

Power restoration after Hurricane Maria, which struck almost a year ago, has been completed, according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

“According to our reports, all of our clients that were without service since Maria now have electricity,” said Geraldo Quiñones a spokesman for the power authority, which is known as PREPA. He added that the customers “form part of the recuperation process of the electrical system after the devastation of the hurricane.”

The utility tweeted a picture of “Charlie, Jazmín and children from Ponce,” indicating the family was the last to have power restored.

But those living in El Yunque National Forest take issue with the claim.

“It’s something that’s not true,” resident Jose Saldaña Jr., 43, said on the phone, denying that power was restored, with frustration in his voice.

Saldaña told CNN on Tuesday that he and his family have yet to see power restored to their home and local business inside El Yunque, on the northeast side of the island.

His family runs La Muralla, a small business that has been selling local food in El Yunque for the past 40 years. His parents, both in their 60s, live above the business, and haven’t had power since Hurricane Irma hit the island, weeks before Maria wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico.

Saldaña said power has not been restored because of a back-and-forth with the US Forest Service and PREPA.

When asked why PREPA is claiming 100% power restoration when El Yunque residents still don’t have power, Quiñones said they “don’t have control in El Yunque” and pointed at the US Forest Service, saying the utility needs the agency’s permission to be on federal land and install posts.

Sharon Wallace, the forest supervisor for El Yunque National Forest, acknowledged the complexities of power restoration in El Yunque.

“I think they’re (PREPA) doing the best they can,” Wallace said.

According to Wallace, PREPA asked to install a new power line that would have required a lengthier process and special permission. To restore power to the existing line however, Wallace said PREPA does not need additional permission to maintain the line in El Yunque.

“We knew from the beginning we would be one of the last ones,” Wallace said, adding that power for the Forest Service headquarters was restored in April.

Quiñones said the two organizations remain in constant communication.

“We are confident that this will be resolved soon,” he said. In the meantime, Saldaña said frustration is growing.

His family business was shut down for five months after the hurricane hit.

The family runs a generator about 15 hours a day, more than what’s recommended, and spends about $180 a week on fuel to run it.

“It’s more work, more sacrifices, more costs,” Saldaña said.

PREPA has 1.47 million power customers and returning power to the island after Maria has been a challenge after what has been the largest blackout in US history and the second-largest in world history.

Just last week, an outage knocked out power to almost 130,000 customers. Power was quickly restored. But Puerto Ricans on the island say the instability causes anxiety, especially during the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1.

Nearly 3.4 million residents were left without power on September 20, when Hurricane Maria struck, as the island struggled with Hurricane Irma’s brush earlier that month.

“It’s like they’ve forgotten us,” Saldaña said.