A worker of the Loiza municipality urges residents to evacuate because...

A worker of the Loiza municipality urges residents to evacuate because of imminent flooding due to rain from Hurricane Fiona, in Loiza, Puerto Rico, Sunday. Credit: AP/Alejandro Granadillo

Once again, horrific winds and catastrophic floods hit Puerto Rico. Once again, power across the island went out.

Hurricane Fiona, which drenched the U.S. territory over the weekend, was not even as universally powerful as the Category 4 Hurricane Maria that wreaked havoc exactly five years ago. Yet Fiona, too, has thrown the island into turmoil, with rivers overflowing their banks, and a loss of energy and water at home. Once again, the downed power lines. Once again, the blank darkened traffic lights, and disruption to work and life from San Juan to Ponce. Once again, the long wait for the grid to come back online.

At first glance, Fiona appears to be less destructive than the mammoth Maria, which resulted in thousands of deaths. But the current storm’s chaos is an urgent warning about what happens when infrastructure is not protected and updated, at a time when climate change is already a threat. Puerto Rico and the energy outfits that are now supposed to create and get electricity to its residents — the private venture LUMA and the state-run Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority — provide a particularly brutal test case. The island's balky power system has outages even without big storms. It has been slow to embrace renewables, and is hampered by decades of mismanagement and worse. Despite slow and often patchwork fixes since Maria, the grid was overwhelmed yet again.

Hence the outcome on Sunday, when the island’s Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced that the entirety of Puerto Rico had lost power.

Updates on Luma’s website suggest that “several transmission line outages” contributed to the islandwide power problems and that restorations are taking place. Puerto Ricans surely hope they only have to wait days, not months as they did after Maria. Until the power returns, many will be consigned to flashlights and the drone of generators.

New York has a special bond with Puerto Rico, and not just because we have some experience with deadly storms on our own coastlines. The Empire State welcomed hundreds of thousands of members of the island’s diaspora in the 1950s, and New York politicians often act as surrogates given the limited influence of Puerto Rico’s representatives in Washington.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is right to send state troopers and offer further assistance to our neighbor if called upon.

What is really needed longterm is a more reliable power grid that can withstand the rains and winds of the future.

Other parts of the U.S. are beginning to experience the same concerns. The average American has experienced longer power outages than in the recent past. And just this past weekend, Alaska endured the remnants of a typhoon that shocked residents, damaging airport runways, fuel tanks, roads, and more. 

We fail to prioritize preparation at our peril.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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