How to Survive a Power Outage like a Puerto Rican
On Wednesday September 21st, 2016, the island of Puerto Rico suffered a power outage that affected the entire island. The “apagón” or blackout lasted for 4 days. In fact, I am writing this on Saturday September 24th and currently 200,000 people are still without power. My home was without power for 43 hours. I could write an entire article about the negligence, corruption, and misuse of funds that led to an island-wide blackout that lasted for 4 days, but I’d rather focus on the amazing way Puerto Ricans handle insane situations like this.
So it begins
My power went out at 2:30pm on the 21st. It’s Puerto Rico, so this happens occasionally, and I figured it was just my neighborhood. After calling the electricity company and receiving a busy signal, I jumped on Twitter. In 10 minutes over 30,000 tweets about “la luz” (The electricity) had been sent out from all over the island. I quickly realized that this was a much bigger problem than I had anticipated.
Within a half hour, reports of what was going on at the power plant started showing up online.
That shit is ON FIRE
Turns out, the grid caught fire.
— CycloforumsPR (@CycloforumsPR) September 21, 2016
A normal reaction to this sort of madness might be to panic, but that’s not how Puerto Ricans roll. Puerto Ricans deal with hurricanes and just general abuse all the time, so while they did spring into action, it was not the kind of action you’d imagine.
Let me tell you how to deal with a blackout like a true Puerto Rican
Lucky for you, I used precious phone battery throughout the blackout to snapchat my story, so I’ll supplement these steps with my videos.
Step 1: Get cold beer
This is STEP ONE people! The power is out and the only electrical company on the island is literally in flames but seriously, you better get some beer while it’s cold! Rush the supermarkets! Flood the bars! Chill that beer! Puerto Ricans have a dedication to cold beer that I find downright admirable.
This snap is from around hour 25 of the blackout:
Step 2: Get the candles out
If you’re living in Puerto Rico and don’t have some candles on hand at all times, you’re doing it wrong. That being said, most people aren’t prepared for outages that are bound to last for more than a day, so Pedro and I quickly went to the store to buy more candles, just in case. I myself had quite a few adventures by candlelight, many of which were exacerbated by the fact that I was also drinking copious amount of wine.
Step 3: Get ice while you can
Ice was a precious commodity throughout the entire blackout. Pedro and I immediately purchased 3 bags on the first day when people had not yet realized the gravity of the situation. By the next morning, our town ran out of ice for several hours. If you wanted ice, you had to drive about 10-15 minutes to the next town. That is, if you had the gas. While there was never a gasoline shortage, the possibility of one loomed over everyone’s heads. Gas is needed to run all the generators and of course for cars, so as soon as the power went out, gas stations became madhouses. The lines stretched into the streets, creating an even more precarious situation as cars attempted to maintain some sense of order without any working traffic lights. Some places begin raising prices for a bag of ice to $1-2 more than usual due to the demand. I feel like it’s important to note that while ice was nearly impossible to find at some points, there was absolutely never a time when cold beer was unavailable. I also did not see anyone raising prices on the beer that was kept cold through the use of generators.
Sidenote: try to stay up to date on the situation
Amazingly, a lot of people, especially people in the older generations that aren’t all over social media, did not realize that the power outage was island-wide until the morning after. Puerto Ricans are used to hurricanes when they receive advanced notice so they can stock up on essentials. Pedro and I were able to get a head start on ice and other supplies because we kept checking for updates on how long the outage would last. I also kept everyone on snapchat updated with super professional “Electricity Updates”
Step 4: Save the meats!
Food loss isn’t usually a huge issue, because as long as the power comes back within a few hours and you don’t mess with your fridge, everything will be all right. If the power plant is on fire, however, you’re going to need to make a meat-saving game plan. Many Puerto Ricans keep a gas stove on hand for these situations or even have small generators for their home. We have neither of those things, but we do have a charcoal grill.
We spent 3 days cooking all of our meat on a charcoal grill and either consuming it or storing it in a cooler filled with ice. Friends gathered around our grill, tossing on whatever defrosted meat they had pulled from their powerless freezers. No one could work and everyone had to cook off their meat before it spoiled, so we were somehow forced into having a seemingly endless BBQ, which leads me to the next step.
Step 5: Party like students on a snow day
If you’re from a place where it snows, you will be very familiar with this feeling. It’s a magical day when the weather has decided that work cannot happen and no one can be punished for it. That’s what it feels like when there’s a blackout in Puerto Rico. While many places do have generators and will force employees to come in, there are swarms of people, especially students and teachers, who are simply relieved of their responsibilities until the power returns. Beaches fill up on weekdays. Bars clean up as people drink to pass the time. Hotels sell out of rooms as anyone with the money to spare takes a staycation to enjoy sweet, sweet air conditioning in a generator-powered hotel room.
Or, if you’re me, you bring out coloring books.
The governor of Puerto Rico declared a State of Emergency, but the mood on the island was often more along the lines of summer vacation. This is not to say that people were happy about the situation or even that it was a particularly well managed situation. This blackout caused people to lose money from not working, loss of food, and of course, suffer from health issues as they sweated through the hot days and nights without so much as a fan. I in no way want to make it sound like this insane 4-day power outage was all fun and games for Puerto Rico. It was a situation so crazy that even 80-year grandparents who have lived through multiple hurricanes were shocked that something like this could happen outside of an actual natural disaster.
What impresses me is the way Puerto Ricans smile through the chaos.
No one was happy about the blackout, but people made the best of an impossible situtation. My friends and I sipped drinks while admiring all the stars in the sky that light pollution usually prevents us from seeing. We took drives in the car to charge up our phones so we could listen to music while we cooked meat on the grill. It’s not a situation I’d like to live through again, but if ever have to endure a multi-day blackout for a second time, I’d want to do it in Puerto Rico.