Puerto Rico is 100% without power after Hurricane Maria — here’s why that’s a huge problem

The lights are out in Puerto Rico.

The island is 100% without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which has wreaked devastation on much of the region. The Category 4 storm touched down on Puerto Rico around 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday morning after slamming the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening.

Within hours, the island was completely powerless, ABC News reported. Thousands of people are currently seeking refuge in shelters, and all electricity and phone lines are dead as of 3 p.m. ET.

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Hurricane Maria's destruction in Puerto Rico
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Hurricane Maria's destruction in Puerto Rico
COROZAL, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 27: Irma Maldanado stands with Sussury her parrot and her dog in what is left of her home that was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed through on September 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A car is viewed stuck in a flooded street in Santurce, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called 'the most devastating storm in a century,' had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Fishing boats with severe damage at Club Nautico in the San Juan Bay. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Men walk past damaged homes after the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017. Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on, cutting power on most of the US territory as terrified residents hunkered down in the face of the island's worst storm in living memory. After leaving a deadly trail of destruction on a string of smaller Caribbean islands, Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico's southeast coast around daybreak, packing winds of around 150mph (240kph). / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A local shop sustained damages after Hurricane Maria at Ponce de Leon Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man looks for valuables in the damaged house of a relative after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Damaged electrical installations are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria en Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man walks close to damaged houses after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Agapito Lopez looks at the damage in his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
TOPSHOT - A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria. Authorities in Puerto Rico rushed on September 23, 2017 to evacuate people living downriver from a dam said to be in danger of collapsing because of flooding from Hurricane Maria. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: People sit in their apartment after the window was blown out by the winds of Hurricane Maria as it passed through the area on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: A flooded street is seen as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: People sit in their apartment with the window blown out by the winds of Hurricane Maria as it passed through the area last week on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: A flooded street is seen as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
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Power is a key component of any area's infrastructure. It supplies cool air during a heat wave, keeps life-preserving hospital equipment running, and allows people to charge phones that they need to communicate. A region's power infrastructure can tell you a lot about its capacity to withstand a devastating event like a hurricane, according to Vivek Shandas, an urban planning professor at Portland State University.

After Hurricane Irma lashed Florida and caused power outages throughout the state, eight people trapped in a nursing home died after the facility's faulty backup generator failed to come online. That was a clear failure on the part of the nursing home and larger region to plan for a natural disaster, Shandas said. Still, it wasn't shocking, since most parts of the US badly needs to update levees, buildings, transit hubs, and power lines, he said.

"Generally speaking the US gets about a D+ for things like this. Much of our infrastructure was built in the late 1900s and it’s beginning to fall apart," Shandas said.

In Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory, widespread power outages are creating problems across the island for the second time in two weeks. The island largely avoided the wrath of Hurricane Irma earlier this month, but the storm's powerful winds still managed to leave more than 1 million people without electricity, according to the Associated Press. More than 70,000 people were still without power as Maria closed in. Shortly after 4:00 p.m. ET, a 12-hour curfew was instituted for the island. Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, tweeted that the curfew would extend from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. local time from Wednesday through Saturday.

The electricity problems stem from larger economic issues — public infrastructure on the island has long been deteriorating. Puerto Rico effectively sought bankruptcy protection in May, according to the New York Times, and is currently $123 billion in debt.

“It’s a terrible downward spiral,” Miguel Soto-Class, president of the Center for a New Economy, a research group on the island, told the Times. “When the power goes out, the water goes out, because the water authority is the number one client of the power authority. They have a few of their own generators, but eventually you’ll have a second utility that will go down."

NOW WATCH: This bicycle generator could bring electricity to millions of people living without it

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SEE ALSO: Meteorologists had a major clue that Hurricane Maria would be devastating

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