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Power to San Juan should be restored by end of November, Army Corps says

Mary Ann Thomas
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 4:51 p.m.
Col. John Lloyd, of Pittsburgh Upper St. Clair, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Power Restoration, Puerto Rico, with a soldier with the Delta Co., 249th Engineering Battalion in Rio Grande near San Juan.
Col. John Lloyd, of Pittsburgh Upper St. Clair, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Power Restoration, Puerto Rico, with a soldier with the Delta Co., 249th Engineering Battalion in Rio Grande near San Juan.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to help restore power to the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan by the end of the November, according to a Western Pennsylvania man leading the restoration efforts.

"The biggest challenge continues to be the flow of the equipment," said Col. John Lloyd, 49, of Upper St. Clair, commander of the Army Corps' Task Force Power Restoration.

The task force is the primary agency working with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to restore power after Hurricane Maria tore through the island almost seven weeks ago.

The mission has about 150 Corps employees from across the country working in Puerto Rico or at sites shipping materials to the island.

Some from the Pittsburgh area will return home this week after a monthlong tour, according to Army Corps spokesman Jeff Hawk.

As of Wednesday, about 43 percent of power had been had been restored, according to Puerto Rico's official website on the status of utilities and other issues.

Complaints about the lack of power have been widespread among business owners who say their losses are mounting and parents who say their children need to resume school.

Nearly 20 percent of the island remains without water since Maria hit Sept. 20, killing at least 55 people. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs, and some say more than 470,000 people could leave the island in upcoming years.

"If we don't re-establish power and other basic services, the damage to our economy will be even greater," said Ramon Rosario, Puerto Rico's public affairs secretary. "We cannot allow that, and we have established clear goals."

Progress has been incremental because the Corps has had to acquire and transport equipment and materials to Puerto Rico.

Work is speeding up considerably, Lloyd said.

The U.S. Navy Ship Brittin recently delivered more than 500 pieces of Army Corps equipment for the power restoration and temporary power missions in Puerto Rico. Much-needed work items included bucket trucks, pole diggers, cranes, backhoes, emergency housing units and office trailers, according to the Army Corps.

Another 308 generators were delivered to provide temporary power to facilities designated as critical such as hospitals and water treatment facilities.

The Army Corps' temporary power mission in Puerto Rico is the largest of its kind in the agency's history, according to Lloyd.

There are more shipments to come, including many of the 62,000 utility poles needed to string new power lines.

The more remote parts of the island present a challenge, according to Lloyd. The Army Corps will have to clear roads to reach some of those areas, Lloyd said.

"But we are also trying to look at other ways to help them with generators or solar power panels."

Ray Alexander, director of contingency operations at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the corps' goal is to have 50 percent of the power restored to the island by the end of November and 75 percent by the end of January.

The Associated Press contributed. Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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