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Electricity Outage Stymies Puerto Rico Recovery Efforts

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And in Puerto Rico, there are flooded communities, buildings with collapsed roofs and a landscape that is littered with debris in the wake of Hurricane Maria. A major complication of course is the lack of electricity because the power grid across Puerto Rico has been knocked out. Almost 3.5 million residents are apparently without power, potentially for months. And now in northwest Puerto Rico, 70,000 people are hurried to evacuate because a dam there is at risk of failing. The U.S. National Weather Service calls it a, quote, "really, really, dire situation." We spoke with Alex Wroblewski earlier today - he's a photographer in San Juan - and asked about what he's seen.

ALEX WROBLEWSKI: Right now, the biggest issue I'm seeing is, like, people getting in touch with their family members. There's no cellphone service. Besides the electricity or water, a lot of family members aren't able to get in touch with each other. So that seems to be one of the biggest issues that we've run into.

SIMON: People sleeping on the street? People...

WROBLEWSKI: Not so much, not so much. I think that - I think everybody's been hunkered down in their homes. And looking out over the city at night, it's a total blackout besides the hotels that do have power.

SIMON: Yeah. How are people getting by without power? Because this isn't just for a few hours. It's - the days are mounting up, and it might be months.

WROBLEWSKI: Yeah. What we're hearing is it's going to be four or five months. But I think the governor said six months. The only places that really have any power are wherever there's generators. So people having, you know, backup generators is what's keeping some small businesses going. A few people have them in their homes. But what keeps those going is fuel. And fuel - the gas itself is a real issue because - yesterday, we ran into a gas station. And interviewing folks, they're waiting for four or five hours for gas. People are waiting overnight, and that's another problem.

SIMON: And from what you've seen on the ground there, sir, what's the recovery effort look like?

WROBLEWSKI: So what's interesting is we haven't run into FEMA. It's just the community that is - everybody is coming out to clean up the roads, moving power lines - you name it. The people here are, as a community, coming out to clean up the roads and recovering San Juan.

SIMON: But you haven't seen FEMA or sort of anybody's official emergency crews?

WROBLEWSKI: Not especially. I mean, and we've seen a few - the fire department's out but not in large numbers. A lot of police - but as far as, like, FEMA or recovery efforts go, it's the locals who are making the biggest effort.

SIMON: Alex Wroblewski is a photojournalist in San Juan. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

WROBLEWSKI: Scott (inaudible) with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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