In September of 2017, category-5 Hurricane Maria made landfall across the Windward Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The storm’s historic rainfall, storm surges and winds brought devastation to the U.S. territories, and infrastructure restoration efforts are still underway. Justyss Esquivel, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer natural resource specialist and 2014 ATCOFA alumna recently spent two months in Puerto Rico providing quality assurance oversight in the power restoration process. We reached out to her to learn more about the experience:
What projects did you complete?
I was in power quality assurance, so I had to monitor the materials (poles, transformers, conductors, etc.) used by the contractors and ensure work was conducted safely. The contractors I worked with restored power to hundreds of houses, schools, nursing homes and other critical facilities. The contractors working on the island were outstanding and worked as hard and as fast as they could to restore power to the areas they were assigned.
What were your workdays like?
I worked two months straight on 12-hour shifts, but after 30 days of working you are required to take a rest day and then take a rest day every two weeks after that. Corps employees can apply for an exemption if they choose, but you must have someone that can vouch for your mental and physical health. I honestly loved my two rest days because I finally got to see some of the island's beaches.
Were you working with other U.S. Army Corps of Engineer employees from across the U.S.?
There were USACE employees working on base as the managers for QAs (Quality Assurance). We had a lead QA, admin, lead project engineer, project engineer, environmental specialist, and GIS specialist, along with all of the field QAs who worked alongside the contractors everyday.
Are there plans for you to return to Puerto Rico?
I will most likely not return to Puerto Rico this year. This month the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported that 98.16 percent of the 1.47 million pre-storm customers have their service restored. There are currently 27,057 clients without power. We remain committed to make maximum contributions towards final emergency restoration for the people of Puerto Rico and to finish strong.
How was your experience in Puerto Rico?
It was beautiful. The people there are so caring and thoughtful. My crew and I were fed lunch every single day while working on the island. The locals would make lunch, usually consisting of chicken and rice. They are so appreciative of all of the work that has gone into restoring their power and show it every day. I will honestly miss the people of Puerto Rico. They have been so patient while waiting for their power to be restored. My translator, Gustavo Valsquez, is a Puerto Rican who worked alongside me everyday. His power was not restored until a week before I left the island, but he never complained and continued to work. We are proud to have had the opportunity to serve the citizens of Puerto Rico through execution of a significant portion of the post-Hurricane Maria energy grid restoration.
Is there any additional info you would like to include?
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a great organization. I started as a Summer Ranger in Whitney, TX, moved to Sam Rayburn Reservoir and now will be able to move to Fort Worth to focus on environmental work. There are so many different and unique opportunities available.