Like a careless driver in a fast car, Hurricane Irma plowed through the Leeward Islands in early September. It sideswiped Puerto Rico, knocking out electric power to 1 million people. It ran over Caribbean resort islands, including Saint Kitts and Saint Martin, then skidded north at Key West. Careening up the Florida peninsula, Irma left millions of people without power.
A multi-billion-dollar smart grid investment and an unprecedented repair effort helped Florida Power & Light—the state’s largest utility—restore most service to 4.4 million customers by September 22.
In a statement, the utility credited what it said was one of the largest restoration workforces assembled in U.S. history. Some 28,000 workers from 30 states and Canada had the power back on within 10 days.
Then, almost improbably, a second storm plowed through the Leeward Islands two weeks after Irma. This time, Puerto Rico was hit head-on by Hurricane Maria. Essentially 100 percent of its power was knocked out.
A week after Maria hit, the Defense Department said that 56 percent of the island's residents had no potable water. In addition, 80 percent of the island's electricity transmission system and all of its distribution system were said to be damaged.
Full recovery likely will take months, complicated by the U.S. territory’s financial straits, by the damage across an area the size of Connecticut and by the island’s distance from the mainland; San Juan is more than 1,000 miles from Miami.
“I can’t tell my guys to put trucks on I-95 and drive south,” said Mike Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association (APPA). (Read more.)