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Norad Tracks Santa

Linemen return from Puerto Rico after 36 days

Posted on Friday, December 1, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Described as ‘incredible experience’

By Rachel Christian
Staff Writer
Six linemen from the Kissimmee Utility Authority found plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
On Nov. 21, the six-person KUA crew returned home after 36 days in Puerto Rico, where the men worked seven days a week to help restore power to the storm-battered island.
The work was grueling and plentiful, with more than 85 percent of the island still in the

Photo/Kissimmee utility authority
Angel Quiles, Tony Nasco, Luis Santiago, Shane Paras, Kevon McKinsey and Robert Diaz on the tarmac of the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport as they prepared to return home to Central Florida.

dark when the men arrived Oct. 17. They worked 12 to 16 hour days, rain or shine, alongside crews from three other Florida utility companies.
“It was definitely hard work,” said KUA lineman Luis Santiago. “But it was also an incredible experience. We wanted to help them.”
The trip was even more impactful for Santiago and his co-worker, Roberto Diaz, both Puerto Rican natives.
Santiago visited the country a few days after Maria struck, and said the devastation around his hometown of Salinas made him want to assist in the recovery process.
“When I came back, that’s when I told my company if you’re going to send people down there to help, I would really like to be a part of it,” Santiago said.
KUA has provided assistance to many cities after hurricanes, but this was the first time a crew left the continental United States to do so. The utility trucks were transported via cargo ship to the island prior to the crew’s arrival in San Juan, so that work could begin right away.
The team faced unique challenges on the island from the beginning.
One of the biggest hurdles was securing necessary materials, like poles and wires, in a timely fashion. The men had to wait for the items to arrive by boat and make-do with what they had available in the meantime.
There was also a learning curve when it came to the Puerto Rico electrical system.
“The country runs its operations and wiring differently since it is a different country,” Santiago said. “A lot of it wasn’t well maintained for many years prior to the hurricane, which made it more difficult to restore quickly.”
Santiago, who led the team during the trip, said he found small ways to keep the crew’s morale up on hot and humid days. The lineman kept the cooler stocked with their favorite sodas and drinks, and on Mondays, the team ate at a different restaurant.
“We would look forward to Monday nights every week, just for an hour or so break from the routine,” Santiago said. “It wasn’t a big deal, but it meant a lot to us.”
The residents of Puerto Rico also played a role in lifting the spirits of the KUA crew. Locals stopped by to drop off bottles of water, sandwiches and cake when they saw the men working on nearby power lines. The crew said the outpouring of support and appreciation made the job even more rewarding.
“The people were so kind and generous,” Diaz said. “They barely had water or food for themselves, but they shared whatever they had with us.”
Diaz and other crew members said being away from their families for five weeks proved to be one of the biggest challenges of all. As a husband and father of two, Diaz said he waited each day to speak to his family on the phone.
KUA’s contract with the Puerto Rican utility company expired after 30 days, but the crew stayed an additional six days to wrap up work. When they finally left, 50 percent of power had been restored to the island.
The six linemen arrived home Nov. 21, just in time for Thanksgiving. It was one experience Diaz said he would never forget.
“I’m always grateful for my family and my children, but this Thanksgiving was more meaningful,” he said. “I was so thankful and happy to be home.”