How is it possible, they wanted to know, that a hurricane that had passed at a safe distance and hardly claimed a shingle could leave so many in the dark?
Puerto Rico’s plunge into darkness has been long coming. In July, the huge, government-owned power authority defaulted on a deal to restructure $9 billion in debt, effectively declaring bankruptcy.
It has neither modernized nor kept up with maintenance. Trees have gone untrimmed, poles unattended. (The electric company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló said the authorities could not estimate how long it would take to get the power back until officials were able to survey the damage.
Thursday afternoon he said service had been restored to 144,000 households — which still left nearly a million out.
Still, he said, things could have been much worse.
“We would like to start out thanking the almighty,” Mr. Rosselló said. “Our prayers were answered.”
On other islands, the reckoning was far more stark.
On St. Martin, a part-French, part-Dutch possession where at least four people died as a result of the storm, aerial footage taken by the military showed streets inundated with water and homes devastated by winds. The second wave of destruction, for businesses at least, was man-made: looters were picking through the remains, sometimes in view of police officers who stood idly by, “as if they were buying groceries,” said Maeva-Myriam Ponet, a correspondent for a television network based in Guadeloupe, another French Overseas Territory in the Caribbean.
St. Martin remained mostly isolated from the outside world on Thursday, lacking power and most cellphone service.
Ms. Ponet, who reports for the Guadeloupe 1ère network, said the residents of St. Martin felt utterly neglected. “Help will arrive tonight,” she said, “but for the moment, they don’t have anything.”
The nearby island of St. Barthélemy, another French territory, was also hard hit, as was Barbuda, where half of the island’s residents were reportedly left homeless.
The network’s correspondent in St. Barthélemy, Eric Rayapin, described a “spectacle of desolation,” with the island all but severed from the outside world. There had been little or no phone service, water or electricity since Tuesday night.
Buildings have been “ravaged,” he said, and many roads have been destroyed.
“The population here is suffering enormously,” Mr. Rayapin reported. “Some of them have lost their houses, the cars have been flipped over in the middle of the street, and all vegetation has been destroyed.”