Nearly 50 We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) employees returned home Friday after spending the past eight weeks restoring power in Puerto Rico.
There were welcome home events planned for a few cities.
About 60 We Energies and WPS employees left for Puerto Rico in mid-January to join a force of nearly 1,500 electric company workers who responded to a request for assistance following Hurricane Maria.
“I think all the guys didn't know what to expect, but it was, the devastation was actually maybe a little worse than what we thought,” said Steve Vancampenhout with WPS. “When we were in Florida we thought it was bad, but here, everything was gone. And they'd been out so long they can't find any of the equipment, everything is overgrown, so it took a while to get things going. So yeah, it was probably the worst I've seen.”
On Feb. 24, an additional group of about a dozen employees returned home after spending six weeks participating in the restoration effort.
Workers we spoke with say there were challenges like a language barrier and difficult terrain, but the people were so grateful.
“Pictures don't really do it justice. The storm was a whole lot worse off than what you see on TV, but the people are a whole lot better, the people are very, very grateful, so it was an eye-opening experience for everyone that went there,” said Curt Felber, a Lead Lineman.
The work done in Puerto Rico is unprecedented for both We Energies and WPS, as it is the longest restoration assignment in each company's history and the first time employees have restored power outside the continental United States.