Dozens of Xcel Energy linemen and crew members, many from West Texas and New Mexico, have spent the last week on a nearly monthlong mission to restore power to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
They’ve faced challenges — from repairing heavily damaged infrastructure to navigating narrow mountain roads that make transporting large equipment difficult — in their efforts to help their fellow Americans living thousands of miles away across the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
But it’s been rewarding to see the results of their work to restore power to people who have been without, many since September, said Lee Nordby, a Minneapolis-based operations manager for Xcel.
“The customers are just raving about us being here — they’re so happy,” he said. “We feel so bad for them being in the dark so long.”
Nordby was among the 65 Xcel Energy crew members from Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and the Midwest who were deployed to Puerto Rico early last week for what will be a 21-day mission.
He spoke with the Avalanche-Journal over the phone Tuesday from the area around Caguas, a city in mountainous terrain in central Puerto Rico.
The area was among many locations on the U.S. island territory hard hit in September by Hurricane Maria — the second storm to hit the island in 2017.
In December, authorities in Puerto Rico said around 750,000 people were still without power, according to an A-J report last month.
By Tuesday, Nordby estimated the crews from Texas and New Mexico were responsible for restoring power to more than 200 customers since they received their first work assignments Jan. 31.
“I think all the guys are happy to help their countrymen down here,” he said.
There were 16 employees from the Texas-New Mexico area — including Lubbock, Levelland, Littlefield, Plainview, Muleshoe and Seminole — who were in the group that left last week, according to Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves.
The Xcel crew is working alongside linemen from several other U.S. mainland utility companies in an effort led by American Electric Power.
“A second group of roughly the same number of employees is scheduled to travel to the island once the first group’s deployment is complete, and that group will also work for about 21 days,” Reeves said.
On Friday, Reeves gave an update on the Xcel crew’s progress through the first two days, when they’d successfully restored power to 73 customers. By Tuesday, power had been restored to at least 150 more customers, he said.
Most of that work, he said, involved setting poles and rehanging cable that has been in disrepair since the September hurricane.
“The Texas-New Mexico crews have worked safely under overcast skies and high humidity,” Reeves said. “They report that the local people are excited to see the help from other parts of the United States and have been warm and gracious. The biggest challenge so far has been moving through narrow streets where there is little to no traffic control, but local police are assisting where they can.”