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Florida Power and Light workers return home after deployment in Puerto Rico

Posted at 9:18 PM, Apr 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-04 05:38:25-04

Home sweet reunion.

More than 120 Florida Power and Light line workers, management and support staff returned to Florida on Tuesday afternoon, following an extensive restoration effort in Puerto Rico.

"We made an impact on the island, and the island made a impact on us," said FPL lineman Abel Hernandez.

Some of the workers have been gone as long as three months helping to restore power to millions of residents who have been without power on the island since the hurricanes wreaked havoc in September.

"It's been a challenging 90 days. We've been working in very congested neighborhoods. Over the last 30 days, we've been working in the mountains. For the FPL workforce, it's something very different," said Manny Miranda, senior vice president of Power Delivery for FPL.

A charter plane carrying the workers landed on Tuesday around 4:30 p.m. Standing alongside the workers' families were FPL company leaders as well as Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

"I was glad to welcome utility restoration workers home today from their work in restoring power in Puerto Rico," said Gov. Scott. "During one of my four trips to the island since Maria made landfall, I led a delegation of Florida utility providers and national emergency experts to help Puerto Rico's recovery. I'm proud of the work that we have done in Florida to help our neighbors in Puerto Rico recover."

Since the storms, FPL has deployed more than 100 trucks, tons of electrical equipment and three waves of employees who worked alongside an FPL Incident Management Team on the ground in Puerto Rico.

"There was lot of work to be done. We knew that a tremendous hurricane came and did a lot of damage to the island. When we first got there, a lot of people saw us and they prayed a lot.

One lady told us, 'You're the answers to our prayers, we've been praying for you," said Hernandez. "To hear someone tell you that, is life changing. This was a life changing experience for everyone on that island."

But Hernandez said the time away from his toddler son was difficult.

"I'm super grateful to be back, it has been a long time away from our families," he said. "I'm speechless to see my family here. It's amazing. I see my wife and my son on FaceTime every day even that's still not enough. To finally see them and hold them, there's no words to describe it."

Workers said they were overwhelmed by the hospitality and warmth of the Puerto Rican people during their time on the island.

"They fed us. I put on like 30 pounds. It was a really great experience," joked lineman Kenny Thomas. "People were really great. They stick with us, been without power for so many days but they were patient. They helped cut trees. It was a really great experience."

FPL said FEMA sponsored the trip so no cost will be passed on to FPL customers.

"All the support we are providing on the island -- whether it's sending material, sending our trucks, lodging, bussing, all the  support personnel and our crew -- are being reimbursed by FEMA," said Miranda. "We do this at no profit. We are here for mutual assistance."

A little over 95 percent of the island now has power. Before the workforce arrived in January, the percentage was only at 50 or 60 percent with power.

"The days were long and hard. But when you hear the cheers at the end of the day when we close that switch in and you see the people crying and hugging you and thanking you for everything you've done, it makes it worth it. That's what we're there to do."

From here on out, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is responsible for restoring service to its remaining customers.

"It's better now, better than it was when we got there," said Thomas. "Over time, it will be what it is supposed to be."

To read more on the restoration effort, click here.