When Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, the devastation – to every aspect of the island – was virtually incomprehensible.
The storm’s 155 m.p.h. winds destroyed hotels and knocked over homes. The island’s electrical system was “completely demolished.”
That’s how Randall Pinkston, Distribution director, described what he saw when he first arrived to assist in the restoration efforts in October.
“When I landed in San Juan, it had been almost a month since the storm hit the island, but there was still debris in the road,” Pinkston said. “But the first people we met were incredibly friendly and welcoming and weren’t acting like they were living through a natural disaster.”
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority had approximately 2,500 miles of transmission lines and nearly 30,000 miles of distribution lines on the island before the storm.
Maria’s winds and rain obliterated nearly all of them, and damaged PREPA’s generating facilities. The island of 3.4 million people was knocked into perpetual darkness.
Soon after, the restoration process began, with utilities from the U.S. mainland sending workers to the island. The Southern Company operating companies have all participated in the rebuild.
“We’re proud to work in an industry that supports our brothers and sisters across the country,” Pinkston said. “And now we can include Puerto Rico in the locations where we’ve provided assistance.”
While Mississippi Power, and our sister companies, are considered industry leaders in storm restoration, Puerto Rico’s geography, the severity of the storm and distance from the continental United States is presenting unique challenges to the men and women working to get the lights back on for the island’s residents.
“All of the materials needed to rebuild the electrical system, and the homes and businesses on the island, have to be sent by plane or by barge,” Pinkston said. “Once it arrives, the workers on the island are doing a tremendous job to get it installed as quickly and safely as possible.”
Pinkston spent about seven weeks on the island in October and November. He mainly worked in the northwestern city of Aguadilla, overseeing a staging area and crew of nearly 200 contractors with PowerSecure and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Distribution Manager Randy Castello replaced Pinkston in late November and spent 38 days on the island.
“We spent most of our time cleaning up downed electrical material and looking for parts that weren’t damaged to use in the grid rebuild,” Castello said. “We also replaced poles where it was possible.”
Castello’s time in Puerto Rico meant he was there for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. He says he met so many resilient people that were making the best they could of an unfortunate situation.
“The people of Puerto Rico are some of the greatest that I’ve ever met in my life,” Castello said. “We worked on Christmas Eve to get the lights on for as many families as we could. We spent time with residents and delivered presents to a few homes. It’s a Christmas I’ll never forget.
A team of ten Mississippi Power employees arrived on the island on Jan. 20. They plan to stay until early March.
“It’s very humbling to be involved in this restoration effort,” Pinkston said. “I’ve worked storm restoration for three decades, and the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people was an incredible thing to witness. Being able to help the people of Puerto Rico has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO), produces safe, reliable and environmentally responsible energy for nearly 187,000 customers in 23 southeast Mississippi counties. Mississippi Power ranked first in the Southeastern Electric Exchange’s 2016 Safety Performance Reports and is consistently recognized as an industry leader in reliability, customer service and safety. Visit our websites at www.mississippipower.com and www.mississippipowernews.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.