After an eight-month, $3.8 billion federal effort to try to end the longest blackout in United States history, officials say Puerto Rico's public electrical authority, the nation's largest, is almost certain to collapse again when the next hurricane hits this island of 3.3 million people. "It's a highly fragile and vulnerable system that really could suffer worse damage than it suffered with Maria in the face of another natural catastrophe," Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello says. Another weather disaster is increasingly likely as warmer seas turbocharge the strongest hurricanes into even more powerful and wetter storms, the AP reports. Federal forecasters say there's a 75% likelihood that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins Friday, will produce between five and nine hurricanes.
"It's inevitable that Puerto Rico will get hit again," says Assistant Secretary Bruce Walker, head of the US Department of Energy's Office of Electricity, which is planning the long-term redesign of the grid run by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. Despite billions plowed into the grid since Maria hit on Sept. 20, 2017, Puerto Rican officials warn that it could take far less than a Category 4 storm like Maria to cause a blackout like the one that persists today, with some 11,820 homes and businesses still without power. "The grid is there, but the grid isn't there. It's teetering," says Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico's commissioner of public safety. Federal officials and Puerto Rican leaders blame decades of mismanagement that left the island's power authority more than $9 billion in debt after declaring bankruptcy last year. (A new study says Maria's real death toll was 70 times the official figure.)