Hurricane Irma Could Leave Debt-Ridden Puerto Rico Without Power for Up to Six Months

Updated | Even before Hurricane Irma started barreling toward Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory was facing major problems with its power supply, as well as astronomical levels of debt.

The hurricane was upgraded to Category 5 strength on Tuesday, and after it passes, parts of the island could be left without power for four to six months, according to Ricardo Ramos, director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

According to reports, 300,000 people are already without power, representing about 20 percent of Puerto Rican energy subscribers. (The island has a total population of roughly 3.4 million.)

Speaking with radio station Notiuno 630 AM on Tuesday, Ramos said some parts of the island could see power come back within a week, but areas where infrastructure has been left in tatters by an ongoing, debilitating recession will likely experience prolonged outages.

RIGHT NOW: the wind and rain near Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. Power outages reported. #wftv #Irma @BShieldsWFTV @WFTV #PrayForPR

— Nancy Alvarez (@NAlvarezWFTV) September 6, 2017

NEW: 20% of energy subscribers in Puerto Rico, approx. 300,000 people, have lost power, governor says - @JoshuaHoyos

— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) September 6, 2017

PREPA has faced myriad problems given Puerto Rico's economic woes, especially over the past year or so.

In September 2016, Puerto Rico experienced an islandwide outage for several days following a fire at a power plant. Facing approximately $9 billion in debt, PREPA filed for a form of bankruptcy in July.

Puerto Rico is currently around $74 billion in debt, and in May it filed for the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

The island has about $15 million in case of an emergency. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency already has roughly 400 people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to aid in the overall response to Hurricane Irma, according to CNN Money.

As Puerto Rico braced for Hurricane Irma, Governor Ricardo Rosselló declared a state of emergency, and temporary shelters have reportedly been set up on the island for around 60,000 people.

Executive Order of the Governor of PR, @ricardorossello, declaring a State of Emergency due to the imminent passage of Hurricane #IrmaPR

— Departamento de Estado (@DeptEstadoPR) September 5, 2017

The U.S. territory is reportedly expecting between 4 and 10 inches of rain and possibly up to 15 inches in some places, according to The New York Times.

With winds up to 185 mph, Hurricane Irma has the potential to do serious damage in Puerto Rico, and the island's economic troubles could make the rebuilding process decidedly difficult.

Correction: An early version of this article incorrectly stated that Puerto Rico is $74 million in debt. The correct number is $74 billion.