The Army Corps of Engineers is pulling out of Puerto Rico Friday, ending its work restoring electricity to the U.S. territory’s residents and handing back responsibility for the island’s fragile electric grid to the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA.
More than 16,000 people are reported to remain without power eight months after the devastation delivered to the island by Hurricane Maria.
“It’s not in our culture to walk away from a mission when it hasn’t been fully accomplished, but we follow orders,” Charles Alexander, the Corps’ director for contingency operations, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at a May 8 hearing.
The Corps has been operating under the orders of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The U.S. federal government is leaving behind more than 700 generators at strategic locations around the island and at least two mega-generators to help stabilize the grid.
The Associated Press reports most of the people without power live in the town of Yabucoa, the first place in Puerto Rico hit by Maria on Sept. 20, 2017.
Puerto Rico’s hurricane season begins in two weeks.
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island 1,600 kilometers southeast of the U.S. mainland and its residents are American citizens.
U.S. President Donald Trump visited the island last year to assess the recovery efforts, at one point tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd of islanders.