Two CPS employees share Puerto Rico experience

Manny Gonzalez (left, dark blue shirt) and Larry Aguayo (right, light blue shirt) returning home after a month in Puerto Rico. (Photo, Patricio Calvo)

In late September 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island of Puerto Rico. The category five hurricane tore through the small island, leaving behind a path of devastation and destruction. With the majority of infrastructure destroyed, the people of Puerto Rico were exposed to the elements and left to fend for themselves.

With a population of approximately three million people, and resources growing thin, the situation became critical. When the president of the United States, preoccupied with running his administration, took little action to assist the U.S Territory, cities across the country began to send aid to the island; including San Antonio.

On March 4, Larry Aguayo, CPS Energy construction manager, and Manuel Gonzalez, a CPS Energy senior safety manager touched down at San Antonio international airport and were greeted by a small swarm of cameras and reporters. They returned home after spending 30 days in the region of Carolina, Puerto Rico.

“A lot of people lost a lot of stuff, all their stuff,” Aguayo told reporters. “We got there, we restored power, but we wanted to do more.”

The CPS employees worked in conjunction with Austin Energy and Salt River Project. Aguayo and Gonzalez oversaw the safety of their workers and local citizens laboring together to help restore power to the region of Carolina.

In just 30 days the men would make lasting improvements and would be moved by the hospitality of a people who suffered horrific loss.

“They were just so grateful,” Gonzalez reminisced. “Most days they were providing lunch for our crew, you know for 50 guys. Very humble people with not a whole lot to give and after the devastation they had been through, they were still making lunch for all of our crew.”

When asked if any stories stood out to him about the resilience of the Puerto Rican people, Gonzalez could no longer fight back the tears as he shared his experience.

“Ten days after I got there I found out about a family who had a son on life support, and they’d been running on a generator for 149 days,” Gonzalez said. “I knew what they needed, but I couldn’t get it for our crews and couldn’t get it for theirs. As soon as I was able to find it I got it down there. Just this Saturday we received confirmation that they got their power back up and they are no longer on a generator.”

With the return of Aguayo and Gonzalez, two more have been sent to continue in lending a helping hand to the island. Although progress has been made and the majority of power restored, the road to recovery for Puerto Rico is daunting but not eternal. Homes, villages, schools, hospitals, must all be rebuilt or repaired and with the help of those on the mainland that road becomes less and less of a challenge each day.

“They predict by March 30, by the end of this month, they should be at 95 percent (power restoration) and all the crews are going to be sent home.” Aguayo told reporters. “It’s going to need a lot infrastructure rebuilding, substations, and power plants.”

With almost $90 billion in damage Hurricane Maria, has been labeled the worst natural disaster for the island of Puerto Rico and the 10th most powerful storm in record history. However, with chaos comes the aftermath of unity. Two CPS employees from San Antonio Texas, made a difference in the lives of thousands that has put the region of Carolina back on the path of recovery.