Eugene Smotkin’s sabbatical was interrupted over the weekend when he lost power at his house in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And Hurricane Fiona, which brought 80 mph winds, dropped 30 inches of rain on the island and caused widespread, intense flooding, hadn’t even arrived yet.
“Here, the blackout began even before the storm hit us,” says Smotkin, a Northeastern University professor of chemistry and chemical biology.
Smotkin was not alone. The entire power grid went down in Puerto Rico, leaving the island’s 3 million residents without electricity. It wreaked havoc on antiquated infrastructure that has still not been updated since 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the most destructive storm in the island’s history. Hurricane Maria left 3,000 people dead–most of them after the initial storm as a nearly year-long power outage prolonged the impacts.