Originally Published: January 5, 2018 5:50 a.m.
Arizona utility companies are answering the call for help by Puerto Ricans still without electricity following heavy damage to the island by hurricanes in September.
Salt River Project sent eight workers in December and has just sent a second batch of workers as the first group is expected to return from their deployment this weekend.
Arizona Public Service (APS) has also stepped up to the plate. The company will be sending 50 line workers and support staff to Puerto Rico in mid-January.
These crews are part of a nationwide mutual assistance effort, sending nearly 1,500 electric workers to bolster restoration efforts on the island. Ahead of crews’ arrival, APS is transporting vehicles and equipment via barges from the Port of Lake Charles, Louisiana, according to APS spokesperson Annie DeGraw.
APS crews and support staff making the 3,000-mile journey to Puerto Rico represent a diverse swath of APS’s territory with employees coming from Yuma, Douglas, Cottonwood, Surprise, Buckeye, Goodyear, Paradise Valley and Phoenix, according to a news release. These crews will join the nearly 5,500 restoration workers already on the island who are assisting the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). PREPA, along with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), has been running an emergency command center on the island since early December. APS has committed crews to the island through mid-March.
Travis Braden, APS crew foreman in Cottonwood, said he and two of his line workers will be part of the deployment.
“I feel sorry for the people down there,” Braden said. “I couldn’t imagine being out of power that long.”
About 40 to 45 percent of the island is still without power, according to PREPA. Those areas are primarily in rural regions.
“Whether you’re in Puerto Rico or Arizona, rural areas tend to be sometimes the hardest to get back on,” DeGraw said.
“I think we all know that we’re going into a bunch of challenges,” Braden said. “People don’t realize what it takes to put this stuff up. It takes a long time and the main thing is you have to be safe doing it all.”
Even after this 6-and-a-half week commitment, DeGraw and Braden are hesitant to say that the island will be fully restored with power.
“I don’t know, honestly,” DeGraw said. “Travis and his crews are going to do everything to help with the effort, but there’s a lot going on down there.”
“It’s probably going to be an ongoing thing,” Braden said.