December 16, 2017
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As Mainers lament continuing power outages, consider Puerto Rico


Updated:
Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Crews are so overwhelmed with damaged power lines, many streets, like Ohio Street were closed in Bangor. The storm caused widespread damage to the power grid leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity.

A pre-Halloween rain and wind storm knocked out power to more Mainers this week than did the fabled ice storm of 1998. The outages and other storm damage remind us of the fragility of the nation’s power grid and our vulnerability as climate change churns up larger and more powerful storms.

Mainers, as resourceful as ever, mostly took the power outage in stride. Those with generators opened their doors to friends and neighbors for showers and a hot meal. People spent extra time in their cars, charging phones and other electronic devices. Meals, sometimes cooked over a camp or wood stove, consisted of meat and vegetables quickly thawing in powerless refrigerators. Long lines poured into streets as drive-through restaurants were overwhelmed with customers.

But soon the dark homes and cold water grew tiresome, and many wondered why the power crews had yet to come to their town or street.

These crews, along with tree cutters, first had to ensure safety by getting downed trees off power lines and get down power lines out of streets and driveways. Because of the necessary cleanup, restoring power to all areas of Maine, including parts of Bangor and Portland, could take several more days.

The extended outages are dangerous for some, especially the elderly and those who need oxygen and other electricity-powered medical devices. But for most they are a lingering inconvenience.

For some perspective, remember Puerto Rico, where, for the majority of residents, the power has been out for more than a month, the longest hurricane-induced power outage in U.S. history. Power has been restored to only about 30 percent of the island’s customers. The situation is worse in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where more than 80 percent remain without power.

These are U.S. territories where residents pay U.S. taxes — payroll, Social Security, estate taxes, but not federal income taxes. They deserve more from the United States they have gotten in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. President Donald Trump feuded for weeks with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. During an October visit to the island, Trump blamed Puerto Rico for busting a hole in the federal budget, a barb he did not hurl at Texas and Florida, where the U.S. is also spending billions to help residents and businesses recover from hurricanes.

A report from the United Nations, released Monday, shines a light on the frustratingly slow American response to Puerto Rico’s devastation from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island on Sept. 20.

“Thousands of people are displaced, with homes destroyed, and without any relief in sight. More than 80 percent of the population, or close to 2.8 million people, continue to live without electricity,” the UN expert said. “Few hospitals are functioning. There are allegations that the water available —for those who have access to it – may be contaminated.”

In addition to knocking out electricity and damaging water supplies, the hurricane destroyed most of the nation’s crops, prompting concerns about food shortages and hunger. Contaminated water and poor sanitation could lead to illnesses and disease outbreaks.

Alleviating this dire situation must remain a top priority of the U.S. government.

In Maine, power companies expect to have power to nearly all customer restored by the weekend, a frustratingly slow process for those still in dark and cold homes. Until then, you know the drill: Check on your neighbors, avoid downed power lines and limbs, operate generators in open spaces and throw out food that has sat in warm refrigerators or freezers for more than a couple of hours. For a list of emergency shelters in your area, visit maine.gov/mema or call 211.

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