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PHOTO: Mario Tama/Getty Images/File
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Story highlights

The island of about 3.4 million was hit by the storm last month

About 70% of it is still without power

(CNN) —  

In terms of the total number of lost hours of electricity, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are in the midst of the largest blackout in US history, according to a report from an economic research company.

About 70% of the US territory, which is home to approximately 3.4 million US citizens, is still without power. Many do not have access to reliable drinking water.

“Since October 3, 2017, more than 73,000 individuals arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico through Miami International Airport, Orlando International Airport and the Everglades Port,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office said in a statement.

The United States approved Florida to host residents with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on October 5, he said.

“This agreement approves 100% federal reimbursement for costs incurred by the state of Florida related to the accommodation of those displaced by Hurricane Maria,” he said.

The state has opened three disaster relief centers at the main airports in Orlando, Miami, and the Port of Miami for displaced families from Puerto Rico.

Staff from several agencies, including FEMA and the American Red Cross, are in Florida helping incoming residents, he said.

Those heading to the US mainland are leaving behind an island that’s almost in total darkness. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are in the midst of the largest blackout in US history, according to a report from an economic research company.

In all, Hurricane Maria has caused a loss of 1.25 billion hours of electricity supply for Americans, according to the analysis from the economic research firm Rhodium Group. That makes it the largest blackout in US history, well ahead of Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the group said.

That 1.25 billion number will continue to grow. More than a month after Hurricane Maria knocked out the electric grid on the islands, the vast majority of residents remain without electricity, and the restoration of that power is months away.

Getting power back to hilltop communities like Aguas Buenas after Hurricane Maria requires work in tough terrain.
PHOTO: Bill Weir/CNN
Getting power back to hilltop communities like Aguas Buenas after Hurricane Maria requires work in tough terrain.

Puerto Rico has a smaller population – about 3.4 million – but the blackout has lasted for a much longer stretch of time. As of Thursday, just 26% of households had power restored, according to data from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

PREPA, a state-owned utility, filed for bankruptcy in July, is $9 billion in debt and is struggling to recover from the hurricane outages. Not coincidentally, several of the top 10 blackouts in US history involve Puerto Rico, including Maria and Irma this year and Hurricane Georges in 1998.

Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old utility firm with ties to the Trump administration, was awarded a $300 million contract from PREPA last week to help restore the country’s power grid. The huge contract to a small company has led to questions and criticism from Puerto Rican politicians.

In general, most power outages are due to disruption in the power lines that deliver energy, rather than in energy generation, Houser said. Hurricanes, with their high sustained winds and wide geographic area, are particularly likely to knock out power for large numbers of people.

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Sam Petulla and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.