On Wednesday morning, about 140,000 Mass. utility customers were left without power in the wake of a nor’easter that brought whipping winds and heavy snow to the region. But on the same day, a similar number of residents were without power in Puerto Rico — except they have been in the dark for six months.
This week, five senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, expressed their own concern about the US territory in a letter to federal officials about efforts to restore electricity on the island, where more than 130,000 residents are still without power.
The letter, sent on Wednesday to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers, requested an overview of the agencies’ efforts to restore power, a description of the difficulties they’re facing, and an updated time estimate for full restoration, among many other items.
Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada also signed onto the letter.
“Federal and local responders have struggled to provide relief to citizens living in the mountainous, more sparely populated regions of central Puerto Rico, where transporting supplies and vehicles is more difficult than in coastal towns,” the senators wrote in the letter. “Without power, hard-to-reach areas have struggled to access clean water and preserve food, leading some areas and schools to disconnect from the PREPA [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority] grid entirely.”
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, as a Category 4 storm, leaving nearly 1.5 million customers without power. At the end of the year, 100 days after the hurricane, about 55 percent of customers had their power restored.
Now, about 92 percent of customers have their power back, according to the senators’ letter. Federal and territory agencies have said they hope to restore electricity to up to 95 percent of customers by the end of March.
The senators asked in their letter what materials and resources will be necessary to reach this goal and also looked ahead at the next hurricane season, which will start on June 1.
“Do you believe that the Puerto Rican electrical grid will be capable of withstanding and rapidly recovering from a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane during the 2018 hurricane season?” the senators asked.