Local resident helps rebuild Puerto Rico
Months after the storm, PSEG workers are making progress.

Photo provided by PSEG

Local resident helps rebuild Puerto Rico

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
1/4/2018


EAST ISLIP—PSEG Long Island, in its ongoing response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for support for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, announced last Wednesday that it had recently mobilized another wave of crews to aid in Puerto Rico’s severely damaged electrical grid. More than 50 PSEG employees and contractors had previously been deployed to the Caribbean island in early November 2017, with team members working in four-week rotations.

Michael Meier, outage management system lead supervisor, PSEG Long Island, was part of the first wave of employees sent to Puerto Rico in early November. “Assisting the people of Puerto Rico is one of the most memorable experiences in my lifetime,” the East Islip resident said upon returning home. “The residents were so appreciative and welcoming. Collaborating with our colleagues was informative and, as a team, we are helping people begin to rebuild their lives.”

Meier told The Islip Bulletin last week that the moment he arrived at the airport in Puerto Rico, the damage was clearly “extensive.” Although the buildings (which are mostly cement) remain intact, countless trees and utility poles have broken and fallen on roads and houses. Electrical wires are twisted and tangled with telecommunication wires and other debris. Roads remain collapsed and washed out as well.

“The people were out of power for two weeks before we got there,” Meier said, “but they’re resilient. I never got so many hugs in my life. They’re incredible people. They have nothing, unlike us, and yet they act like they have everything.” 

Hurricane Maria swept through the U.S. territory on Sep. 20 with nearly 150-mile-an-hour winds, cutting off power to 3.4 million residents. Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety has attributed 64 deaths to the storm. The last two were added on Dec. 9. 

President Donald Trump had visited Puerto Rico on Oct. 3, two weeks after the storm. It was here that the president told Puerto Rican officials they should take pride in their then unrealistically low death toll. “Sixteen people versus in the thousands,” he said, referring to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina that killed 1,833 people in New Orleans. “You can be very proud.”

However, the official toll in Puerto Rico has come under scrutiny. The actual number of deaths, as of early December, may be 1,052, according to a review by The New York Times. The Center for Investigative Journalism and Pennsylvania State University have drawn similar results.

More than 100 days after the storm, approximately one-third of the island remains without power, according to Puerto Rican government statistics.

“Every day, we are finding an electric system that is in dire need of repairs,” said Ross Holmes, working foreman, PSEG Long Island. “It’s a beautiful island, a Caribbean paradise and frequent vacation destination, but the people that call Puerto Rico their home deserve to have safe, reliable and resilient power, which is why we’re here and why we’re working 16-hour days to rebuild the system.”

The crews and contractors from PSEG Long Island are working with teams from the New York Power Authority  and many of New York’s other utilities in the restoration effort. In total, there are now more than 3,500 workers on the island who are dedicated to the power restoration mission. This includes PREPA’s own workers and crews mobilized under USACE contracts. The second wave of employees that was announced last week deployed on Dec. 22 and will remain through mid-January, supporting the restoration efforts in San Juan.

“Restoration is slow, tedious, and at times very challenging, given the terrain,” said Timothy Harris, economic development consultant, PSEG Long Island. “I am humbled to realize how much I really have to be thankful for after meeting so many gracious people that are dealing with such hardship.”

“Puerto Rico is going to need help for some time,” added Jeremy Walsh, a spokesperson for PSEG Long Island.