Photo by Brian Major
Puerto Rico is slowly coming back to life today, nearly 48 hours after an island-wide blackout left 1.5 million residents and tourists without power – and ahead of the usual surge of weekend visitors.
A huge fire at a central electrical plant in San Juan caused a nationwide blackout across the island on Wednesday. Authorities said the fire was under control by 10 p.m. that night with no injuries reported, but the plant supplied much of Puerto Rico with its power.
San Juan, and particularly the tourist area of Condado, are packed with locals and tourists alike on the weekends to enjoy the beautiful beaches by day, or to hike the El Yunque rainforest, and to party like rock stars at night in its pulsating nightclubs.
According to ABC News, about 75 percent of 1.5 million homes and businesses served by the power utility had electricity restored by this morning.
"We've surpassed our expectations," Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said. "We're working hard to restore power to our other customers ... I understand the annoyance of being without electricity."
He added that he expects the majority of Puerto Ricans will likely have power by Saturday.
According to Puerto Rico Tourism Company Executive Director Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort, "Hotels are open for business and have reported an increase in their occupation levels. Many are sharing this news through social networks, and a few have launched hotel deals. Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is also operating as normal with no immediate concerns; travelers should plan to arrive to the airport early. Casino operations have not experienced issues either. Due to the widespread implications of the situation, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company will continue to monitor any impact on the Island until service is restored.”
Puerto Rican Tourism Company officials also added that cruise ships are making all normal stops as itineraries continue to include Puerto Rico.
While most hotels likely have backup generators, some do not – and neither do some restaurants, clubs and tourist attractions. Puerto Rico is within two-and-a-half hours flight of Miami, shorter for surrounding islands, but its tourist industry had suffered earlier this year because of an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Major League Baseball even canceled a regular-season series between the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates that was scheduled to be played in San Juan in May.
According to the Associated Press, the average hotel occupancy rate in Puerto Rico fell from 78.6 percent to 74.8 percent, year over year for the first six months of 2016.
Garcia said temporary power outages would still occur over the weekend, but the island can ill-afford anything – rolling outages or otherwise – after that.
The National Guard was activated on Thursday, a state of emergency was declared and public schools remained closed today.
TravelPulse's Brian Major contributed to this report.