Life goes on even when catastrophic weather heavily damages the power grid here or in other communities. In 2017, hurricanes destroyed or damaged power grids in three communities where the utilities sought the assistance of our highly skilled crews.
It started in late August with what’s being called the second costliest storm on record after Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Harvey dumped rain that triggered flooding in Houston and across South Texas. Once the danger receded here at home, our crews quickly mobilized to restore power for our fellow Texans in Victoria.
Bertha Coronado went on the trip to assist American Electric Power (AEP) with a sense of urgency and heartfelt emotion. She became the first female in recent history to participate in one of our Mutual Assistance Storm Responses, and she did it while knowing that Harvey had leveled her family home in Rockport to its foundation.
Working 15 hours each day for nine days, we persevered through rugged terrain, swarms of mosquitoes, snakes and other dangerous wildlife to install 40 poles and repair downed wires and transformers. In the end, nearly 8,000 restored AEP customers got on with their daily routines.
Nurse Maria Garcia became the second woman to assist in a Mutual Assistance Storm Response, this time among a crew of 58 who helped Floridians get restarted following Hurricane Irma. Over the course of 12 days and many encounters with iguanas, nearly 64,000 people in Jacksonville and Key West saw their lights come back on.
While we were there, the good folks at Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) helped one of our crew members celebrate his son's 10th birthday. They noticed when Steven Cansino sent a videotaped birthday message to his son that was later shared on social media and the news. FMEA thanked Steve’s son, Derek, for sending his dad to help them recover from Hurricane Irma, and promised to take good care of him and the rest of our team who were there to restore power in the Sunshine State.
Kindness lifts us up and makes it easier for us to press on during long, hard days when we answer the call for help.
Capturing the attention of an entire nation, stood 3.4 million people without power in double-hurricane battered Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria followed Irma, wiping out the U.S. territory’s infrastructure and energy distribution system in September 2017.
The first time Cris Eugster stood in the midst of the chaos, the hustle and bustle of utility workers everywhere in hard hats and safety vests stood out in stark contrast to a vacation visit made before the hurricane. Then, he had seen relaxed tourists enjoying the island. Our Chief Operating Officer recalled his taxi driver’s one request as the islander dropped him off: please don’t let them rebuild it the way it was.
Cris is working with other utility leaders from across the country to prevent that from happening. He is co-chair of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) Transformation Advisory Council (TAC). The TAC’s job, in short, is to come up with a plan to make the Caribbean island’s power system strong enough that the people who rely on it to feed their families, power their businesses and keep their communities safe can actually rely on it.
They are working towards a solution even in inclement weather. While the rest of us safely avoided icy streets during the local January 16 cold snap, Cris and other members of the TAC met in our offices to work on Puerto Rico’s long-term power vision. Their work continued as we started supporting efforts with boots-on-the ground in early February to assist Puerto Ricans with rebuilding their lives.