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In Puerto Rico, Blackouts Continue To Disrupt Lives And The Island's Economy


Puerto Rico is still recovering from an island-wide blackout that hit yesterday, the largest since Hurricane Maria destroyed the power grid seven months ago. It's the second major blackout in less than a week, not to mention lots of smaller outages that ripple across the island. These are a big disruption to people's lives and to the economy. NPR's Adrian Florido spoke with the owner of one business, Puchy's Cafe.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Puchy is her nickname. Her real name...

BRENDA MENDEZ: Brenda Mendez.

FLORIDO: You can find Brenda Mendez selling espresso out the window of the little coffee kiosk she runs on the main plaza in Old San Juan. You can find her there most days - most days because yesterday Puchy's Cafe shut down.

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We went more than 12 hours without electricity," Mendez says, "and it was a huge loss - more than $800." It was the second day in the last week that a blackout forced her to swing her window shut. But yesterday was especially painful because there were four cruise ships docked at the waterfront nearby. There were more tourists than Mendez has seen here in months. Old San Juan was in the dark.

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "What impression are we giving those tourists," Mendez asks, "that we're recovering from the hurricane and then we fall back down again?"

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "How will Puerto Rico recover," she asks, "if we're taking one step forward and 20 steps back?" Mendez is fed up with these blackouts. Every single Puerto Rican is, she says - her fellow business owners, the students whose classes get canceled, old and sick people who use power for breathing machines and other treatments. There's no way to predict when the power's going to go. And each time it does, Mendez says, the reason seems to get more absurd.

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Last week it was because a tree fell over," she says. "That is how they explained it." Mendez says as much as she hates losing a day's work, what's worse is when her customers come by to tell her that they're done, that they're leaving the island. Just this week seven customers have come by to say goodbye.

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Two left for London, four for Georgia and one for California," she says. They were five waiters and two teachers, all young people.

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I tell them to get ahead, and may God bless them," she says, "and to try to return because we'll be here waiting for them." Here in Old San Juan, the power came back late last night, so this morning Mendez arrived early in her kiosk. And then at about 9:45 the power went out again.

MENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Oh, my God," she says, "I had terrible thoughts." But it came back quickly, after about 18 minutes. One of her customers, Paco Carbonell, thanked God when the power returned because he wouldn't have to go another day without coffee.

PACO CARBONELL: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "From the time you're a little kid you get used to having your afternoon coffee," he says. "You need it to get that second wind." Without it, last night he fell asleep at 7. Tonight he'll be up late, he said. Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.