Puerto Rico Blackout 2016 aka Pop Quiz in Emergency Preparedness

nasa-puerto-rico-power-plant-before-after

You may have heard Puerto Rico experienced an island wide blackout starting on Wednesday, September 21st. Many of you actually experienced it. The blackout occurred when a power switch at the Aguirre power plant in Salinas overheated, causing an oil tank to explode and set fire to 3 acres of land. This in turned sparked 15 fires throughout the island when generators malfunctioned. Fortunately all were extinguished successfully with no injuries. Although sadly, one person died the first night from carbon monoxide poisoning using their personal generator.

For locals, it was an emergency we didn’t have a chance to prepare for. We are used to either out-maneuvering hurricanes or prepping for what promises to be a house party to bunker down and ride them out. This happened without warning, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a work week.

After getting off of work, we like many others, scrambled to get gas, water, cash and ice. Those lines were about a 30 minute wait, not too bad. Stoplights were obviously out but amazingly traffic wasn’t as horrific as you might imagine, even the metro area was just slightly worse than usual. All in all the overall vibe was generally tranquillo considering no one had a clue how long this would last.

We ended up with plenty of food and water but no power left on the phone. Obviously needing a way to contact local/state side family was important so we looked for businesses with generators until we found one with a open outlet. ( Just fyi, if this ever happens to you, avoid the chains and head straight to the mom & pop restaurants/businesses they’re less crowded) Finally with our bellies and phone bars full, we headed home to wait out the next couple of nights.

I would say in terms of preparedness, we had about a weeks worth of non-perishable food and 4 days of potable drinking water. Water was still running in our area so the latter wasn’t an issue. I had just completed our monthly food purchases 3 days prior so I was pretty stressed out we wouldn’t have a way to cook meat that might expire. I really kicked myself on this issue since just two weeks prior I had a propane burner in my cart when I changed my mind and put it back last minute.

Probably the most challenging aspect was sleeping. I don’t think either one of us got more than an hour that first night. You are just drenched in sweat, sticky and miserable. These concrete buildings soak up the heat by day and then release it at night. Opening the doors on street level just isn’t an option for obvious reasons. By night two, even with the exhaustion it was just nearly impossible to sleep again, even the faintest, slightest breeze was a huge relief. Showers were great though, as long as they didn’t end. :)

Other than the propane burner we could have also really used a portable phone charger, a solar powered lantern/radio/usb device and perhaps even a waterBOB. Most of these items would be really useful on our trips around the island as well. And yes, they have all either been bought or ordered. Since our community doesn’t allow gas powered generators we are also looking into smaller solar powered models to run fans and small appliances.

All in all, I think we were lucky the event only lasted a few days, beyond that, things could have declined quickly. Who knows how much gas, water, food and ice we have in reserves or how long it would take to replenish them? On a positive note, Puerto Rico’s massive light pollution was muted for a brief couple of nights, revealing a stunning display or sparkling stars that left everyone in awe. It also brought neighbors closer together, you could hear conversations well into the night peppered with laughter, it was a nice change from the usual routine.

So, how did YOU fare during the blackout and what would have done differently…or the same? I would love to hear about your personal experiences, if you have a moment, please post them here in the comments.