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In Puerto Rico Town, Locals Wait for Power After Massive Blackout

LUQUILLO, Puerto Rico — Twenty-four hours after a fire shut down an electric power plant that serves a majority of island residents, locals of this beach down were trying to go with the flow amid questions surrounding a blackout that left more than a million-and-a-half residents in the dark.

Power was being slowly restored in certain parts of the island on Thursday, though the island's governor, Alejandro García Padilla, warned that it would take until Friday to restore electricity to most people. He declared the situation a state of emergency.

In Luquillo, residents were still waiting.

For 16 yr old Pamela Diaz, the blackout was a mix of emotions.

"My night was quite dangerous. We were trying to turn on the generator and gasoline spilled all over and it was intoxicating and we had to go outside and pour water all over la marquesina," said Diaz. "Then we sat at the table and talked, it was nice."

But Diaz, who attends a school that specializes in math and engineering, was upset that it was a day without classes.

"I was angry, I am taking my SATs soon," she said. "It's another day without school and you get behind your schedule."

Juan Correa, a 60-year-old retiree, was dealing with his medical issues as well as he could; he uses a catheter and was suffering from discomfort.

"I was supposed to go to the urologist to get this bag out and remove the antibiotic drip but his office is closed," he explained.

William's Pizza in Luquillo, Puerto Rico.
William's Pizza in Luquillo, Puerto Rico. Sandra Guzman

Asked is he was worried about long the power outage might take, Correa put his hands in the air and said he will go with God's wishes. "There is not much we can do," he said.

Some took it more in stride.

Naysha Pagan, a 26-year-old artist and waitress from Fajardo, a town next over, said she brought her bathing suit to bathe in the river after work. "I'll go to the rivers like they did way back," she said.

"Last night was candles all over the house and drinking mildly hot beer, she said. "We were looking at the stars; no one was on their phones since everyone was trying to save their batteries. It was cool."

Image: A general view of a blackout during a power outage across several areas in the country, in San Juan, Puerto Rico
A general view of a blackout during a power outage across several areas in the country, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 21, 2016. ALVIN BAEZ / Reuters

Authorities were still investigating what caused a fire at the Aguirre power plant in Salinas. Puerto Rico's electric utility is struggling under a $9 billion dollar debt and residents have complained of exorbitantly high utility rates amid intermittent service. The utility said there were no issues with the plant prior to the fire.

A power outage, explained the town's residents, is no surprise, since for the past few years intermittent outages have happened. What they were not expecting was the massive nature of the outage.

"I think we need to decide what we are going to do politically," said 21 yr old college student Pamela Acevedo, who is studying medicine. She was at the beach with her younger sister and a teenage friend.

With schools and most businesses shut down for the day, some of the young people in this northern coastal town were making the best of the situation and hitting the waves.

"I think it's great," said an upbeat 17-year-old high school student Emmanuel Lebron, who was out since sunrise. "With no technology we are more united talking more. It's nice."

Correa said that 27 years ago when Hurricane Hugo smashed into the island causing millions of dollars worth of damages and loss of lives, the lines to get ice and water were horrendous. El apagón, as islanders call the blackout, is nothing compared to that.

Michelle Skerrett, 46 with her three kids in Luquillo, Puerto Rico.
Michelle Skerrett, 46 with her three kids in Luquillo, Puerto Rico. Sandra Guzman

Michelle Skerrett 46 a mom of three was worried about a rainstorm and didn't take her kids to the beach. But she did the best next thing, she took them out for pizza. The shop was operating on a gas oven and with a flashlight serving dozens of hungry customers.

"We're going home to enjoy the pizza and pray the lights come on tonight," said Skerrett.

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