Tennessee Valley Authority joins effort to bring power back to Puerto Rico

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The longest-lasting power outage in modern U.S. history is almost over. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reports power is almost completely restored to the millions who lost power during Hurricane Maria. Help to restore power came from across the United States, including right here in the Tennessee Valley.

In September Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, wiping out the power grid. Four months later, half of the island is still without power -- enter the Tennessee Valley Authority.

"By the time I'd been there just a couple of days it was all steam ahead. I mean we were actually going 12 to 18 hours a day all the time," said Jeff Phillips, an engineer for the TVA.

Phillips and four other TVA employees joined the Department of Energy, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other power providers from across the U.S., in Puerto Rico to help restore power to the island.

He says the terrain, resources, and geography made it difficult to get power restored quickly, but the 45 long days of hard work paid off.

"By the time we left in March we had it restored to about 96 percent," Phillips said. He says he is grateful for the opportunity to do life-changing work on the island.

"About halfway through my deployment there we moved into a new area and found out there was actually a man named Javier Lopez that was on life support. And at the time he had not had power for over five months," recalled Phillips. "So as soon as we found out that he was one of our critical needs cases. We jumped on it and about a week and a half we had power back to him, and spent a lot of time with him and his family and still friends with them today as well. So that was definitely the highlight of my trip."

He says the people in Puerto Rico were thankful for their work, even cooking them meals when they worked up in the mountains.

"They were very very grateful, everybody, whenever we would restore the power, they were walking around shouting, singing, hugging our necks. It was a great experience to turn the power back on and watch the people's face," said Phillips.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority says now, nearly ten months later, 99.9-percent of the island has power.

Just days ago FEMA released a report calling the 2017 hurricane season "unprecedented," saying it stretched response capabilities at all levels of government.

Among the major hurricanes that caused havoc, Harvey, Irma and Maria. Fema says nearly five-million households signed up for disaster relief during the second half of 2017.

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