Alabama Power experts spend holidays helping with Puerto Rico recovery

Alabama Power experts spend holidays helping with Puerto Rico recovery
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico's electric power system. Three months after the storm, much restoration work remains to be done. (Contributed)

It’s been an arduous, frustrating journey for the people of Puerto Rico, still recovering from Hurricane Maria. More than three months after the monster storm struck the island, thousands remain without electric service.

But members of the Alabama Power team working in Puerto Rico for the past two weeks say they’ve been treated warmly by everyone they encounter.

“People here are nothing but grateful, kind and considerate. They have been so welcoming to us,” Mark Stacks, a power delivery manager in Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division, said during a brief phone call from the western region of Mayaguez. Cellphone service on the island is still spotty, so Stacks spoke fast.

“When you see the devastation here, it just puts it in perspective,” Stacks said.

Also on Alabama Power’s Puerto Rico team are Brian Lindsay, Wray Anderson and Randy Brasher – all veterans of storm recovery operations. On Dec. 10 they joined six other professionals from sister companies Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power as part of Southern Company’s effort to help get the lights back on.

Other investor-owned utilities from across the U.S. also have sent in teams to help the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the Army Corps of Engineers and others in the restoration effort.

Stacks said the Southern Company team is working in conjunction with PREPA, the Corps and others in assessing damage, refining restoration plans and determining priorities based on a variety of factors, including the challenging conditions on the ground.

With some equipment and supplies still on their way to the island, the Southern team has been helping with logistical planning: pinpointing where available resources and equipment should be allocated to speed restoration.

For instance, Stacks said the Southern team helped coordinate installation of power poles in one community, so they would be in place when wires, transformers and other equipment arrived on site.

“We are working with them to see if we can use our experience from previous storms to help bridge the gap,” Stacks said.

He said the damage remains widespread, although progress is being made. For example, much of the transmission system, which carries power from generating plants to substations, has been restored, as well as many main lines into communities. On the other hand, “there are broken poles still everywhere.”

The combined Southern Company team was expected to remain on the island through the first week of January, when a second Southern team will take its place.

Stacks said the team was in “high spirits,” despite being away from home during the holidays. He said the Southern team has built “great chemistry” as it works closely with the organizations leading the restoration.

“We’re doing what we can to help,” Stacks said.

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