Engineering Supervisor Matt Ball is part of Mississippi Power’s 10-person team assisting with Hurricane Maria restoration in Puerto Rico. The team arrived in Puerto Rico on Jan. 20. After several days of work, Ball answered some questions about his experiences.
Q: Why did you sign up to participate in the restoration effort on Puerto Rico?
I volunteered because I saw this as a great opportunity to make a positive impact in the total restoration efforts from Hurricane Maria. Helping others that have been out of power for over 120 days is a unique opportunity. When we begin to provide service back to homes that’ve been without power for that long, I’m sure that moment will be powerful for not only the customer but for us as well.
Q: What were your initial impressions when you got there?
Our initial drive from the Port of Ponce to Mayaguez was welcomed by several people standing along the streets waving and thanking us for coming to help. Bringing hope to the people of Puerto Rico is something that really didn’t set in for us until we made it here and saw how excited they all are. Every time we are traveling to our work location, we see people rush outside, waving and clapping. I can’t imagine being without power for that long.
The destruction is pretty severe. Most of the debris cleanup has been completed in the areas where we’re working. In the larger cities, the power’s been restored, but as you venture out into the more rural areas, there is a lot of work left to be done.
Q: What type of work are you doing?
We are working in the Maricao area which is about 21 miles from Mayaguez. That distance takes well over an hour due to traffic and the mountainous terrain. We have been assigned a circuit out of a substation that primarily feeds communication towers on the mountaintops and some residential homes. Unfortunately, restoration progress will not be at the rate we are accustomed to back at home due to the terrain of the land. There are numerous locations where we all ask the same question, “How did they get the wire from pole to pole originally?”
Q: Where have you been working? What’s the terrain like – mountains, coastal, inner-city?
Our staging location is in Mayaguez which is one of the larger cities on the island. We commute each day from Mayaguez to Maricao where we are now staging our trucks overnight to help improve efficiency. Gulf Power and Minnesota Power have crews working in our general area as well. Our work location is all mountainous terrain. Where we are working is La Torre de Piedra, which is a tourist attraction for sightseeing. It has incredible 360 degree views where you can see water in pretty much every direction.
Q: How long are you going to be there?
We are expecting to be here for 45 to 60 days.
Q: What does your wife – Engineer Samantha Ball – think about you being gone for so long?
Being gone for this amount of time is going to be tough on both of us. I’ve only been gone for around a week at the longest since we’ve been married, so two months will be unprecedented. Cell signal can be limited where we are working so communication during the day can be challenging. The service is much better in Mayaguez, so we talk when I get off work. Puerto Rico is two hours ahead of Petal, but that hasn’t caused us any communication issues so far.
Q: Has anything surprised you?
What’s surprised me is how nice the people are. I would not have the same positive attitude toward the power company if I was without power for over 120 days. The customers are very grateful and appreciative of us being here to help. Seeing the expression on their faces as we drive into their city to restore power is a humbling experience and really puts things into perspective. Our team is looking forward to continuing to help the citizens of Puerto Rico.
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.