I will never forget the sadness I felt when I first flew over Puerto Rico in the days following Hurricane Maria. It looked as though a fireball had made landfall and burned a path through the center of the island. It was heartbreaking. As the commander of the South Atlantic Division, with responsibility for the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and the landmass south of the US-Mexico border, I felt responsible and obligated to do whatever possible to make a difference here and restore normalcy.
The Corps is performing many important missions in Puerto Rico in support of FEMA and the Governor. We are removing debris, conducting infrastructure assessments, installing temporary roofing and installing temporary power. The production rate of each of these missions is accelerating each day as we are able to bring more personnel and equipment to the island. We watch our numbers very closely and constantly seek ways to be even more productive. An interesting fact is that our team has already installed more generators in Puerto Rico than in Texas or Florida combined. That speaks to the commitment and motivation of our team – trying to make things better as soon as possible.
On September 30, we received the mission to partner with PREPA in order to make emergency repairs to the electrical grid – we hit the ground running. We started to deploy Corps employees who have power grid experience. We requested the Pittsburgh District to serve as project manager for the mission. We contracted for a new generator in order to stabilize the Palo Seco Power Plant. We ordered large amounts of materials and initiated the contracting process to inject people and equipment onto the island to work the transmission and distribution lines. The entire team is working very hard, every day, to accelerate PREPA’s efforts to fix the power grid.
I know that the only thing Puerto Ricans want to know is about timeline. That is very difficult to answer. We still don’t know the depth of the damage. We believe that 80% of the system is affected, but that is only an estimate. We know that it took five months to restore the majority of power following Hurricane Georges…and I have been told that the damage this time is more extensive. More and more people will have power each day, but it will certainly be some time before the entire island is restored. PREPA’s goal it to reach 25% restored by the end of the month. As of today, we are at 17%. We will be able to answer the key question of time as soon as our contracts are awarded and contractors arrive to assess the extent of the work required.
I can’t stress enough how important this mission is to the US Army Corps of Engineers. We are deeply committed to restoring normalcy to the people of Puerto Rico. The men and women of the Corps, currently serving in Puerto Rico, have come from across the United States. And there are many more volunteering every day to join this effort to make things better. We are here until the job is done, and the people of Puerto Rico have a grid that can sustain them until permanent repairs can be made.