Special to the New Journal and Guide
Brady Miller said it wasn’t easy to leave his family to spend a month in the mountainous terrain of Puerto Rico restoring power after Hurricane Maria devastated the island and its power grid, but he’s glad he did. Miller and all 82 Dominion Energy employees have returned safely from their mission in Puerto Rico, welcomed by family, friends, and colleagues after a job well done. When they arrived to the hard-hit area of Carolina (about 30 minutes northeast of San Juan), only 50 percent of the residents had power. But thanks to their efforts and others from across the country who joined the massive effort, more than 80 percent of the residents have been restored.
“I’m glad I could be part of a great team with a lot of experience,” said Miller, a Dominion Energy Groundman based in Chesapeake and Deep Creek High School graduate. “I learned a lot. And the people there were so gracious and appreciative, thanking us, cooking for us, it was a good feeling.”
Miller said they faced harsh conditions on the island – 14-hour days, intense humidity, exotic animals and treacherous roads/traffic conditions. Despite those challenges, the Dominion team installed 226 new poles, reworked hundreds more, and replaced more than 14 miles of power lines that had been damaged by storms. It was painstaking work, but 2,000 more homes on the island are now lit at night and have air conditioning and refrigeration.
Miller and team say they’re also proud that no one got hurt.
“There was wire all over the ground and a lot of vegetation covering it. Every day we would spend significant time ensuring everything was safe before we could proceed. One time I had to hold the wire to climb the hill and cut at the same time. Everything was on an incline. It took a toll on the body, but other than getting bit by a fire ant, no injuries. We always put safety first.”
Dominion Energy Spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said, ”Our team not only left a positive impression on the residents of the island, but PREPA (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) and the utilities we worked alongside in this effort showered our team with accolades for the safety, professionalism and work ethic demonstrated by our Dominion Energy employees.”
PREPA has no definite estimate for when the entire island will have electricity, in the longest and largest major power outage in modern U.S. history, but restoration teams from other utilities continue to arrive on the island to aid in the recovery effort.
When the Dominion workers got home, they got some time off in in recognition of the extended deployment and time away from their homes and families.
“I’m glad I went, but happy to be home,” Miller said. “My son Braylon, who will be two in May, was talking a lot more when I got back. So I missed some things, but my wife SaFonya was very supportive. She was proud that I was able to go and make a difference.”